Usage and Grammar

Q. Hello! I understand that when an indefinite pronoun like “everything” is the subject of a clause, it takes a singular verb (per CMOS 5.67). But I’m stumped by the following sentence, whose compound subject is composed of two indefinite pronouns: “Everything we say and everything we do [is/are] built on this idea.” Does it take a singular or a plural verb? The singular sounds better to my ear, but the plural seems like the logical choice.

A. We agree with your assessment. Though it seems logical that two (or more) singular subjects joined by and would take a plural verb, the results won’t always sound right. In the case of indefinite pronouns that take a singular verb, they can remain singular in combination. For example,

Anyone and everyone was there tonight.

That seems right to us—though MS Word’s grammar checker flags was in that sentence as a potential error and suggests were as a correction. In your sentence, you might try “Everything we say and do is built on this idea.” That’s more concise—and more obviously singular. But there’s nothing wrong with your version, which has the advantage of being nicely emphatic.