Agreement question

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri Oct 18 16:53:25 UTC 2002

>Of course "the stories the team tell" or "the stories the jury tell"
>are perfectly good English in some varieties, so I'd go for the
>plural sense rather than the 's' business.


>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

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
740 Wells Hall A
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office - (517) 353-0740
Fax - (517) 432-2736

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