First impression and how effective it can be plays an important role in communication.


It's a sentence from a mock exam held in Iran. To me, the sentence is not well written. Here's my revision:

A first impression (or First impressions) and how effective it can be play an important role in communication.


Well, It's a compound (plural) subject, consisting of two distinct things, the impression and how it is received. So the verb should be plural. 

One of my colleagues, however, disagrees that a plural "play" is required here. This is because the conjunct is somewhat lopsided. He says the sentence is about an impression and one of its characteristics.


What do you think?

Original Post

Hi, Freeguy,

I agree with your friend about the verb being fine in the singular, based on this (taken from The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style):

Sometimes compound subjects are governed by a sense of unity and by notional agreement take a singular verb: My name and address is printed on the box. His colleague and friend [one person] deserves equal credit. Using a singular or plural verb changes the meaning of the sentence. Eating garlic and drinking red wine sometimes gives me a headache means that the combination of garlic and red wine can cause a headache. With a plural verb (give), the sentence implies that garlic and red wine act separately; either can bring on a headache.


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