"Five wild owls are saying hoot."
Translation:Viisi villiä pöllöä sanoo huhuu.
Just to complicate things, you actually can say "Viisi pöllöä sanovat" but this is kind of old grammar that's going to be soon forgotten, I believe...
Moreover, in my gut feeling, you can use "sanovat" only in the case that these five owls, and only five owls, have been introduced earlier. I think it has to be all owls and you cannot introduce six owls and use "sanovat" because it wouldn't be synonymous to "The owls say." My old mother disagrees though. She says "Viisi pöllöä sanovat" is ok in any case but it just feels old.
That article's really interesting. Looking through it, it seems to be saying that "five owls say" should be viisi pöllöä sanoo, but "the five owls say" should be viisi pöllöä sanovat.
That after a number other than yksi, the plural verb is only appropriate when the subject is exhaustive; we're talking about all the owls referenced, and the reference was established before the plural verb is used.
Pöllöä is partitive singular. The partitive plural would be pöllöjä. Singular nominative and singular partitive subjects both need a singular verb. We see this in sentences like 'Täällä on ruokaa', "Some food is over here".
But to make things more complicated, partitive plural subjects also need a singular verb. 'Meillä ei ole vesipulloja.' ‘Miehiä kävelee.’
I've never seen anyone offer an explanation for this, but I'd guess it's related to the origins of the -vat ending.
Originally, 3rd person verbs had no ending. Thus both pöllö istu and pöllöt istu, or something like that. But there was a participle ending, -va.
Participles are a type of adjective, and adjectives need to match the case and number of the noun they precede. Thus nominative singular 'istuva pöllö': "a sitting owl", nominative plural 'istuvat pöllöt', partitive singular 'istuvaa pöllöä', and partitive plural 'istuvia pöllöjä'.
The nominative plural participle ending eventually came to be used for plural 3rd person verbs, but only for nominative subjects.
All that said, I’ve seen some people say the verb agrees with the nominative singular number, rather than with the partitive noun that follows the number.
Interesting! I had a linguist friend once (I suppose he's still a friend, but I haven't heard from him in ages) who observed that a lot of 3rd person plural verb endings looked like fossilized participles. I don't recall his examples except latin: homine ambulante, "by the walking man" vs. homines ambulant, "the men are walking". That wasn't his precise example, I'm sure, and I may have something wrong, but it ran like that. I think actually another example was Sanskrit, but that doesn't make for much cross-linguistic diversity. Another was from a Native American language that he was familiar with. His wasn't a careful survey, just an interesting observation.
I never made that connection with other languages.
But now that you mention it, Ancient Greek: 3rd person pl. βαίνουσι 'they walk', and present active feminine pl. participle βαίνουσαι.
And in Middle English, the present participle of 'seeing' was seende, from Old English sēonde, and one of two forms used for all plural subjects was seen, from Old English subjunctive pl. sēon.
But those are also Indo-European languages.