Sing. subj., sing v.-- and therefore sing. obj. of prep. phr.?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Apr 27 23:33:58 UTC 2010

Is this weird, or common?  A "proximity principle" creating an
incorrect agreement with a properly singular verb to the object of a
prepositional phrase that should be plural?

"One of the University of Pennsylvania's captain was found dead in
his off-campus residence in Philadelphia, university officials said."

AP item, found in the NY Times today.

(And do "officials" always speak in chorus -- that is, more than one
at a time?)


At 4/27/2010 01:58 PM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>On Apr 26, 2010, at 10:21 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
>>I still cringe at s-v discord when a plural verb follows a singular
>>just because the verb is immediately preceded by a singular noun.
>open your books to MWDEU's entry on
>   agreement, subject-verb: the principle of proximity
>("principle of proximity" is due to Quirk et al., though they were
>hardly the first to notice the phenomenon), where you'll see examples
>from 1954 on and pointers to mentions by usage writers from 1962 on.
>(no doubt both these dates could be pushed back, perhaps by many
>years; MWDEU wasn't trying to establish a terminus.)
>the examples are of several different types -- some involving
>postnominal parentheticals, some possibly involving notional
>agreement, but many with postnominal PPs (as in the example you cited,
>"The parents of a brain-damaged mom fights for her right to see her
>own children").
>my own collection (which is admittedly unsystematic) accords with
>MWDEU's discussion: found mostly in speech and in unplanned (or at
>least unedited) writing; in edited writing, most likely when the head
>N of the subject is widely separated from the V; and mostly (but not
>entirely) SG+PL rather than PL+SG (i have other PL+SG exx in addition
>to the one you cited, but only a few).
>>Years of
>>observation, however, (and a conscious determination not to notice
>>only) convince me it's now the rule rather than exception, even in
>>news scripts.  I cringe because when I began teaching in 1976 not even
>>freshmen writers made the error terribly often.
>i don't think Agreement With Nearest is in fact the rule for written
>texts.  and i say this as someone willing to argue that a considerable
>collection of phenomena that might, or might not, have originated in
>mistakes are now, at least in some of their occurrences, aspects of
>the grammatical system for many (though not all) speakers.
>and, as always, i don't trust your recollections of what people, your
>students or whoever, did in the past; i don't trust *my* recollections
>of such things.  these impressions are highly colored by phenomena of
>attention and reconstructions of past experience.
>now it might be that Agreement With Nearest has been picking up in
>carefully written and edited texts, but that's a hypothesis to be
>investigated, not a conclusion established by someone's recollections.
>arnold, wearying of giving these two lectures -- CONSULT SOURCES and
>DON'T TRUST RECOLLECTIONS -- again and again
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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