Have vs Has
May 13, 2015 4:07 PM   Subscribe

It's not important at all, but it bothers me! Yes, I know something's wrong with me. But which is correct? And why?

He says "Who's mouths have your cucumber been in?"
I say "Who's mouths has your cucumber been in?"

He's using the "plural possessive" stance ... I'm arguing that it depends on the cucumber(s) and not on whether the cucumber(s) belonged or was(were) given to multiple people...

In my head... "Your cucumber has been in who's mouths?" is a valid rewrite though it's probably a false justification.

I want to know why... not just he's right or you're right...
posted by one4themoment to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
You are correct - the cucumber is the subject of the phrase, and the mouths are the object. The verb has to agree with the subject.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:10 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're right.

"Whose mouths has your cucumber been in?"
"Whose mouths have been on your cucumber?"
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:10 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Who's = who is. You want "whose," not "who's."

I would say "has" in this case, since the subject is "your cucumber." (What an odd example!) A clearer example would be:

How many apples has she eaten?
Which houses has the inspector inspected?
Which street do they live on?
posted by ethidda at 4:10 PM on May 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

You are correct because the subject of "has" is the singular "cucumber."

It's kind of an awkward sentence, though.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:11 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whose mouths has the cucumber been in?

The cucumber has been in their mouths.

(And now "mouths" looks alien. )
posted by leahwrenn at 4:53 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone else about "whose" and "has". Your rewrite is actually the perfect way to think about questions like this, rather than trying to trot out half-remembered grammar rules.
posted by teremala at 5:00 PM on May 13, 2015

Everyone here is mostly correct, but the verb to be doesn't really have a subject and an object, because it is just a copula here. This is probably what is confusing you. Many languages wouldn't even use a verb in a sentence like "X is in Y".
(Note that "has been" is just the past tense of the verb to be, rather than the lexical verb have.)

So when we rephrase a sentence like this as a statement instead of a question which is a good way to figure out what the verb should agree with, you can actually rewrite it both ways:
"The cucumber is in his mouth"
"In his mouth is the cucumber"

This is a bit confusing, but even in the second example, if you change the cucumber to be plural, your native language instincts should make you want to pluralise the verb too. "in his mouth are the cucumbers"
posted by lollusc at 5:23 PM on May 13, 2015

Oops, I pluralised the opposite thing to what you were asking about. Same answer, though: it's the cucumber that determines the verb number, not the mouths. But because you can rephrase it with the mouths preceding the verb, it is tempting to treat them like a subject and base the verb number on them instead,
posted by lollusc at 5:27 PM on May 13, 2015

Because this is the one that bugs me, I'll just mention that the easy way to remember the apostrophe rule is to remember that NO possessive pronoun takes an apostrophe. If that seems too complicated, remember that "his", "mine", "our", etc. have no apostrophe (right? Where would it go?), and make your possessives line up with those.
posted by janey47 at 5:43 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

the verb to be doesn't really have a subject and an object, because it is just a copula here

A copula still has a subject, though not an object. Anyway, as everyone's been saying, it's the subject that determines the number of the verb, so "has" is right.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 6:01 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, of course. Sorry, I was unclear. I meant to say the verb "to be" in the example you give doesn't follow the typical pattern of "subject - object", i.e. its clause follows the pattern "subject - subject complement" instead.
posted by lollusc at 8:25 PM on May 14, 2015

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