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There are times in Spanish when a linking verb agrees in number not with its subject but with its predicate complement.

  • Lo mejor de la televisión son los avisos.
  • La mejor televisión son los avisos.
  • Mi mejor amigo eres tú.
  • Mis mejores amigas sois vosotras.
  • ¡Esto son rebajas!
  • Eso son los amigos.

It doesn’t always work this way, but when it does, this stands out notably from how concord works in English, where the verb invariably agrees with the subject alone, no matter the number of the verb.

This is really just one question, but here are my thoughts:

  1. Is there a formal rule about this?

  2. Does the fact that it more often seems to occur with neuter and indefinite subjects (esto, eso, lo) have anything to do with it?

  3. Given that many other examples of it not happening are easily produced, how can one predict whether this happens or not?

Examples

Here are a few samples from searching (mostly) Google Books for instances of soy yo for instances where there’s an earlier noun in the sentence:

  • El más oscuro de los hombres [...] ese soy yo.
  • Tu rey soy yo.
  • Los épicos, aquí el único mítico soy yo
  • Un náufrago de mi propia alma soy yo
  • Me importa un comino, el jefe soy yo

SEE ALSO

This very similar question about “Isto são tres perguntas” (that is, “Esto son tres preguntas”) on our sister site for Portuguese Language. As far as I can tell, whatever grammar applies here is true of both Iberian languages. That suggests to me that it must have originated in a common ancestor. There’s some evidence that it occurs in Italian. I haven’t yet found anything like it in French, but it is also possible that French lost it.

  • 1
    Quick comment: rule is you can agree in singular or plural, but you generally agree in plural. The are conditions that favor the singular but you are technically correct with either agreement. With personage, lower number wins (1st takes precedence over 2nd or 3rd, 2nd over 3rd, and 3rd yields), but I'd need to research of there's any time that the agreement would go backwards (1st over 3rd) within the same clause. I'm on vacation so not going to flesh out a full answer now, but will be happy to in a week :-) – user0721090601 Jan 2 '17 at 1:50
  • " where the verb invariably agrees with the subject alone, no matter the number of the verb." Actually, in English the plural is often used if the grammatical number of the subject is singular, but the sense is plural: "The majority of plants are green". This is more common in BrE: "The government are meeting today." – Acccumulation Apr 13 '18 at 18:55
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I think the answer is easy: what you think is the predicate is in fact the subject. The sentences are just inverted. If you turn them over, you get:

  • Los avisos son lo mejor de la televisión.
  • Los avisos son la mejor televisión.
  • Tú eres mi mejor amigo.
  • Vosotras sois mis mejores amigas.
  • ¡Las rebajas son esto!
  • Los amigos son eso.

This way is easier to see that the proper agreement has always been there.

  • I think that this must be the right answer, although I’m hoping to find some references about this which one could cite here. This seems like an inversion of the normal word order to place emphasis on the subject coming at the end instead of at the beginning, something that Spanish is much freer to do than English is, como lo sabes tú — por ejemplo. It also reminds me a little bit of how English “It’s me” normally becomes “Soy yo” in Spanish. – tchrist Jan 2 '17 at 13:44
  • @tchrist you're right, my answer lacks references. I'm writing from my mobile phone, I'll try to expand it later. – Charlie Jan 2 '17 at 14:17
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    Chapter 38.6 of the Nueva gramática de la lengua española (aplica.rae.es/grweb/cgi-bin/v.cgi?i=wnDVJUrfrghCwVII) deals with attribute concordance and I must disagree with @Carlos Alejo here: it is anything but easy. There are many cases where concordance is not clear and several options are valid. – Gorpik Jan 2 '17 at 15:35
  • @Gorpik That’s very well spotted! Sections 37.6i/j/k there appear to be the governing sections addressing this matter. And I fully agree that it's less than easy/clear/obvious, even after having read through what they’ve written there. – tchrist Jan 2 '17 at 22:38
  • Maybe the more "logical" sentences provided by @CarlosAlejo are the underlying structure from where the OP's examples arise, through topic fronting. – pablodf76 Jul 16 '17 at 18:28

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