The notion of “notional concord”

I know, I know. You haven’t a clue what I’m on about. Take a deep breath, get a drink, and have a seat. It will all be clear in due time.

Why, when we’re talking, do we say “Eight hours of driving is more than enough for one day” when grammar would seem to dictate we’d say “are more than enough” instead? (And if you say “are,” well . . . I don’t. You’re not wrong, but neither am I. It’s cool.)

My mom would use the word “notion” to mean “idea or inkling,” as in “If you get a notion to wash the cat, don’t.” (As if I ever would have. I know better than to attempt to wash a cat.) Webster’s says it means “an idea or concept.” Perhaps you’re seeing where I’m going with this.

When we’re talking about “eight hours of driving,” we have a notion (a concept) that that phrase indicates one concept, a single idea. Because we have that notion, we automatically and unthinkingly use a singular verb with it. That, folks, is “notional concord.” The grammatical number of the subject (five hours of driving) and the verb (is, for this argument’s sake) are in agreement, or concord, because we have the notion that the subject is a single concept.

If you’re like me, you had subject-verb agreement pounded into your skull from about fifth grade on. Miss Thistlebottom made sure we knew our singular and plural forms and how to make sure they always matched.

That old biddy. I got along with her all right, but in the back of my mind I always wondered: “If that’s so, why does everyone I know say it differently?”

Because everyone I know knows about notional concord, without knowing it’s A Thing. (Frankly, I bet Miss T. knew it too but was afraid to say so.)

One thought on “The notion of “notional concord”

  1. “Less/fewer” leapt to mind (notional concord explains my take on it as it varies from my wife’s). She resorts to the Ms. Thistlebottom school of analysis every time!

    Like

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