A trivial dialect conundrum

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Thu Oct 4 22:13:00 UTC 2012

On Oct 4, 2012, at 2:35 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> From the NYT:
> A. "… one of those _euphemisms_ that _make_ my teeth hurt."
> The problem is the use of the plural in the relative clause. I use the singular:
> B. "… _one_ of those euphemisms that _makes_ my teeth hurt."
> I have no idea why this is the case. I'm certain that I wasn't taught
> the B way of constructing this kind of sentence-partial and I'm not
> even sure that I've ever heard anyone but me say it and the A-type is
> the only construction that I've ever seen in print.
> Nevertheless, until *very* recently, I've regarded the A-type as
> merely a common "error" of no import.

we went around on this back in 20906, starting from a posting by, yes, Wilson Gray.

what i said on 3/3/06 was:

  as usual, i recommend a look at MWDEU, which has an article on "one of those who", with references to the prescriptivist literature and to a 1951 American Speech article by John Kenyon (who cites Jespersen on the subject).  also to literature that suggests that plural verb agreement, which is what prescriptivists insist on, predominates, but shows that both agreement patterns are amply attested at least from Shakespeare to recent times (sometimes even in the work of a single author).

kenyon's proposal is that someone who chooses the singular "is more immediately concerned with _one_ than with _those_".

an expanded version of this on Language Log, here:

a main conclusion:

  Both variants are ok, and they might even be conveying slightly different things (with greater discourse salience of the one thing, with singular agreement, or of the reference class from which this thing is drawn, with plural agreement).


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