Coach Paterno and the syntactic blind alley

Dan Goncharoff thegonch at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 11 00:42:17 UTC 2011

Why is "one of my friends' fathers" something to talk about?

I have many friends. They all have fathers. Collectively they are correctly
called my friends' fathers. When I want to refer to one member of this
group, that person is "one of my friends' fathers".

What am I missing??

On Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 5:53 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Coach Paterno and the syntactic blind alley
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 10:03 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>
> wrote:
> > one of my friend's father(s)
> Is there any reason even to try to get out of this one? You hear it or
> read it - IME, usually in the form, "one of my friends' fathers" -
> everywhere, thousands of times a day. Being concerned with this is
> like being concerned that the number of speakers who still say
> "EK-skwizzit" and not "ek-SKWIZZit" is vanishingly small.
> > either she or I am/is/are going
> In high school, ca. 1950, I was taught a scrip for this one: in this
> kind of construction, whatever NP follows _or_ controls the number of
> the verb. Hence,
> either she or _I _ AM going
> Needles to say, after having (semi-)automatically applied this rule
> for more than sixty years, I now feel that it's perfectly "natural."
> >
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
> to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
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