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Here is the phrase in question:

When distress and anguish cometh upon you.–Proverbs 1:27c KJV

If I'm not mistaken, "cometh" is a singular form of the verb, equivalent to our modern-day word "comes." I would have expected "distress and anguish" to have been considered a plural subject and thus to have been given a plural form of the verb.

My best guess (so far) at why "cometh" rather than "come" was used is that the translators may have viewed "distress and anguish" as a hendiadys.

I found this idea (of a potential hendiadys) in the translators' note on this part of the verse in the NET Bible.

I've also looked at the Hebrew; if the morphological tagging on my digital interlinear is correct, then the verb in question is, in the Hebrew, in the infinitive-construct form, and therefore (unless I'm mistaken) neither singular nor plural in the original language. (This digital interlinear is Eliran Wong's Open Hebrew Bible Interlinear module for the app MySword for Android.)

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  • Don't expect the kjv to adhere to modern english standards of grammar or spelling. In fact english grammar was still undergoing standardization as the time KJV was written, with many examples of subject verb disagreement in both shakespeare and the KJV.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 18:57
  • @Robert Could you cite any other specific examples from the KJV where the subject and verb appear to be in disagreement? Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 19:22
  • It's hard because I don't have grammatical queries over the translations, so I can't just generate a report. I will search for the online paper written about s-v disagreement in Elizabethan english, which is what I was recalling.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 20:06

3 Answers 3

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Early Modern (Elizabethan) English in 1611 did not always follow modern rules of agreement, and indeed it was still in the process of standardization. Much of this sounds awkward to the modern ear:

E.g. Deut 8.17:

And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.

2 Sam 2.27:

And Joab said, As God liveth, unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother.

Joshua 5.1

And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.

Numbers 4.47-48:

From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation, Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore.

And Macbeth (circa 1606):

Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.

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  • Actually, it looks like "hath gotten" within Deuteronomy 8:17 is a particularly faithful translation; it appears the Hebrew verb is actually singular there. Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 20:07
  • @user2626868 Hebrew s-v agreement would also make modern english readers uncomfortable
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 20:09
  • Perhaps. But that verse doesn't necessarily show us anything that seems odd about Early Modern English, right? Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 20:52
  • @user2626868 I'm confused -- is your hypothesis that translators would use incorrect grammar in the target language order to match s-v agreement in the source language? That's a pretty wild assumption.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 22:31
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Proverbs 1:27 New International Version

when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm [plural] you.

King James Bible

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh [singular] upon you.

https://biblehub.com/proverbs/1-27.htm

overwhelm you.
בְּבֹ֥א (bə·ḇō)
Preposition-b | Verb - Qal - Infinitive construct
Strong's 935: To come in, come, go in, go

The Hebrew verb does not indicate whether it is singular or plural. It is up to the translators.

Almost all the versions in https://biblehub.com/proverbs/1-27.htm use the plural form.

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The KJV is frequently ungrammatical by modern standards. All one can say is that it was OK in 1611 but English grammar has shifted since and now different rules apply.

[There is a similar problem with vocabulary, many words used by the KJV translators have significantly shifted in meaning with some being the opposite of that the KJV translators intended; but that is another problem.]

A glance at modern translations of Prov 1:27 shows that they obey modern English rules of grammar, eg:

  • NIV, NLT: when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
  • ESV, when distress and anguish come upon you.

etc.

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  • Could you provide some examples of other places where the KJV appears to be ungrammatical by modern standards? Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 22:16
  • @user2626868 - Matt 1:18 - "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise." Holy Ghost - is better "Holy Spirit" who was not a phantom of Ghost but a spirit.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 22:20
  • Thank you for the lightning-fast reply! I think the issue you propose concerning "Ghost" would be a vocabulary issue and not a grammatical one. Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 22:24
  • @user2626868 - agreed - but open almost any page of the KJV and see numerous "problems" by modern English standards including the grammar. The KJV was truly superb in its day but the English is now conspicuously dated.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 22:27

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