Agreement question

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Fri Oct 18 15:32:10 UTC 2002

I was asked a question about subject-verb agreement, and it's
raised some questions for me that I'm not sure how to answer.

The sentence was, "The stories the press tell are shaped not
by a 'liberal agenda' or a 'right wing conspiracy' but by..."
This sentence was objected to on the grounds that _press_ is
singular and thus it should read, "The stories the press tells
are shaped..."

This objection seems to be correct. However, the original,
"The stories the press tell are shaped..." is _not_ jarring to
me, and I'm not sure why. It's not proximity concord with
_stories,_ because _press_ is directly next to _tell[s]_.

I also don't think it's a case of notional plurality of
_press._ Certainly one would never write, "The stories Smith
tell are shaped..." But one would also never, with other
collective-ish nouns, write "The stories the team tell are
shaped..." or "The stories the jury tell are shaped..."
Even though these could also be regarded as notionally plural,
_tell_ doesn't work here for me.

I'm thinking that it might be the influence of the -s ending
of _press,_ which, though not a plural ending, might suggest
plurality enough that "The stories the press tell are shaped..."
doesn't seem obviously wrong.

Any thoughts?

Jesse Sheidlower

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