Subject-verb agreement

Discussion in 'English Only' started by modgirl, Jan 12, 2005.

  1. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    I'm baffled. I just bought a book, Barron's Pocket Guide to Correct English, that I was going to send to a friend of mine in Russia. However, either I don't know my own English very well and need to brush up myself, or there is a mistake in the book!

    Page 15 discusses subject-verb agreement. Examples are:

    One of the men was guilty.
    A range of goods was available.
    All along the coast lie traces of oil slick.

    No problem. That is what I've always been taught.

    However...page 16 says, "The verb in an adjective clause must agree with the right noun or pronoun in the clause before it:

    She is one of the most famous writers who have ever lived."

    It just sounds wrong, wrong, WRONG to me!! Can anyone please explain this to me?
     
  2. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    I was looking on the web and found two completely conflicting sources of information.

    There are words between the subject and the verb (in this case it is an adjective clause), but that doesn't matter. The rule still stands: It is the subject that determines the verb.

    From: http://www.myenglishteacher.net/subject_verb_agreement.html

    Great! That's what I thought.

    However.....

    A relative pronoun ("who," "which," or "that") used as a subject of an adjective clause takes either a singular or plural verb in order to agree with its antecedent.

    Example: Mary is one of the students who have done honor to the college.

    (Adjective clause modifies the plural noun "students." "Students" is the antecedent of "who."


    From: http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/SubjectVerb.html

    Help, help, oh please help!
     
  3. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    In this sentence, the adjective clause is describing the noun "writers," and that is the antecedent of the subject of the clause (who). Therefore, the verb needs to be plural. It doesn't matter that the subject happens to be singular. Observe:

    He is one of the best writers who have ever lived.
    They are some of the best writers who have ever lived.

    This is one of the movies that appeal me.
    These are some of the movies that appeal to me

    BUT:

    I like many aspects of the movie that appeals to me.
    I like the cinematography of the movie that appeals to me.

    Get the idea???? :)
     
  4. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    Thank you elroy. I'm digesting the information now. Hmmm....thinking....thinking.... (and unfortunately, I have to leave but I'll be back several hours from now).
     
  5. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Lol...take your time! :D
     
  6. dave

    dave Senior Member

    London
    UK - English
    I agree with you entirely modgirl. Even if the grammarians tells us that it is correct, it is certainly not part of common usage and therefore, arguably, wrong.
    (anyone want to take the bait? ;) )
     
  7. Artrella Banned

    BA
    Spanish-Argentina


    Dave!! :p This is what I was trying to explain in the Spanish forum (remember?)

    I agree with modgirl, I'd say "has" because we are talking about "she".

    But there is a principle called the proximity principle that allows to do that. :arrow: So if the verb is near a plural noun it is possible to put it in plural. So, as "she" is farther than "writers" you can choose to put the verb in plural.
     
  8. Meysha

    Meysha Member

    Brisbane, Australia
    Australia, English
    But we're not talking about 'she' here, we're talking about "the writers who have ever lived".

    I think you can say it both ways and they mean different things.
    "She is one of the best writers who has ever lived" - means that she alone is the best writer in her life.
    "She is one of the best writers who have ever lived" - means that among all the best writers that have existed, she is one of them.

    But maybe I'm completely wrong. I agree that native speakers say the first sentance all the time without even considering the 2nd one exists!
     
  9. Artrella Banned

    BA
    Spanish-Argentina

    Hi Meysha :p !! Which is the subject of this sentence for you?

    She? or One of the best writers?

    When you find the subject you have to match it with the verb that agrees in number with it.

    To me the subject of this sentence is "she" and "is one of the best writers who has ever lived" is the predicate.

    Who is she? >>>> one of the best..... :p

    Who are we talking about? She or the writers?
     
  10. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    NY
    US, English
    Excellent explanation. It might be easier for some to visualize it like this
    Subject: He
    Verb: is
    Prepositional Phrase: one of
    Object of the prepositional phrase: the best writers who have ever lived.
     
  11. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    Constructions such as one of those people who pose a different problem. Many people argue that who should be followed by a plural verb in these sentences, as in He is one of those people who just don’t take “no” for an answer. Their thinking is that the relative pronoun who refers to the plural noun people, not to one. They would extend the rule to constructions with inanimate nouns, as in The sports car turned out to be one of the most successful products that were ever manufactured in this country.
    But the use of the singular verb in these constructions is common, even among the best writers. In an earlier survey, 42 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the use of the singular verb in such constructions. It’s really a matter of which word you feel is most appropriate as the antecedent of the relative pronoun—one or the plural noun in the of phrase that follows it.

    Note also that when the phrase containing one is introduced by the definite article, the verb in the relative clause must be singular: He is the only one of the students who has (not have) already taken Latin.

    Source: The American Heritage® Book of English Usage. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
     
  12. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    You are absolutely right, Nick...but lo and behold! I have just come upon an epiphany! (Actually, I've known this for ages; it was just stored deep down in the dark abysses of my subconscious!)

    I have the grammatical explanation for why the verb has to be in the plural in the original sentence.

    There is a growing tendency among English writers to use unqualified comparatives/superlatives, that is, using the comparative or the superlative without mentioning the other item or group with which you are comparing. For example, it is incorrect to say "He is the best" or "You are more interesting," for obvious reasons. The best what? More interesting than whom? This is a serious error that is unfortunately plaguing English writing.

    Now, back to our original sentence.

    She is one of the best writers who has/have ever lived.

    If we were to opt for "has," then we are deciding that the relative clause goes with "she" and not the "writers." That is, the sentence could be rewritten like this:

    She, who has ever lived, is one of the best writers.

    Not only does this sentence sound downright awkward, but the superlative problem is now so obvious it is just screaming at us! One of the best writers...within which category? One of the best writers who live in New Hampshire? One of the best writers who write while eating apples and watching TV? .... You get the idea.

    On the other hand, when we use the plural verb, the sentence reads thus:

    She is one of the best writers who have ever lived.

    In this sentence, the relative clause is referring to the "writers." This is the only correct version of this sentence because we now know which group she is being compared to. She is one of the best writers. Which writers? The writers who have ever lived.

    Thus, it is the presence of the superlative that necessitates the usage of the plural verb.

    In other examples, in which there is no comparative or superlative involved, we have a different situation.

    He is the only one of the students who has taken Latin.

    In this example, there is no comparison: he is the only student who has taken Latin, so you clearly need the singular verb!

    I hope it's clear now. Now mind you, I am speaking purely grammatically, with complete disregard for what is said/used/misused in everyday English! :D
     
  13. Meysha

    Meysha Member

    Brisbane, Australia
    Australia, English
    WOW. Thanks Elroy, That's exactly what I was trying to get across but you completely explained that so much better than I did! You're the best!! (he he)
     
  14. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    NY
    US, English
    Elroy, I agree with you and find your explanations clear, thoughtful and comprehensive (I have decided not to give reputation points anymore, opting to praise publicly the posts I think are positive).

    I don't know if I'm helping or not, but this rewrite seems to me to say it all...

    She is one of the best writers who have ever lived.
    Of the writers who have ever lived, she is one of the best.
     
  15. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    Not really. Both cinematography and movie are singular, so the verb would be singular, regardless!
     
  16. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    Bingo. I wasn't able to get on the net for awhile, but I actually sat down and thought through this silly thing, and that's exactly the conclusion I reached.

    However, I still don't have to like it! ;)
     
  17. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Haha, thanks Meysha. Glad I could help! :)
     
  18. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Thanks for the compliment! And I totally agree with you about reputation points. I find them childish, unexpressive, and impersonal. I've never given them and would prefer that people didn't give them to me! :D
     
  19. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Yes, you are absolutely right. The point, though, was that it's singular even if you do use a plural word instead of cinematography, as the preceding example I had given shows. Once again,

    I like many aspects of the movie that appeals to me.
    I like the cinematography of the movie that appeals to me.

    Is it clearer now?
     
  20. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Haha, yup! There are many things like that that I "don't like" about English, such as the fact that you have to say "the winner was he" instead of "the winner was him"...who ever decided that??!! :D
     
  21. Ralf Senior Member

    Dresden
    German
    elroy,
    You see me stunned! Usually I say: "He was the winner". So why should "The winner was him" be correct in reverse? [​IMG]
     
  22. elroy

    elroy Sharp-heeled Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    It's not. It just sounds weird to say "the winner was he." In spoken English, most people would say "the winner was him." That's why it's hard for me to say "Der Gewinner was er"! ;)

    "You see me stunned." :arrow: I think you mean, "I'm stunned"?
     

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