“Voters of color will decide if Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden prevail.”
(Headline to an article by Steve Phillips at theguardian.com, 3-1-20)
There’s only the slightest chance that it should not be “prevails” instead of “prevail,” since the conjunction is “or,” not “and.” The headline writer has been lulled, no doubt through haste, into thinking that the two proper names in close sequence preceding the verb amount to a plural subject. The little words get no respect, to echo Rodney Dangerfield.
The slight chance I mention is in the event that the structure were subjunctive, not indicative. Subjunctive, implying conjecture and contrariness to fact (“If I were you,” etc.), is little marked in English, and most often crops up in high-flown or archaic, biblical-sounding rhetoric. I’ll conjure this example, sticking with the verb “prevail”:
“Yea, though Sanders prevail, yet if he be unbending he shall not prosper.”
Or something like that. Where I locate an analog of this syntax is in the verse from Job that says “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
I apologize for the weaseling question mark in this post’s title. That profanation is much too common in today’s clickbait journalism. And that’s the name of that tune, to quote Tony Baretta.
(c) 2020 JMN