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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 28 00:47:05 UTC 2010

If not a slip, very weird.

But that idea's based only on native competence and recollection.  For all I
know, everybody would write it but us.


On Tue, Apr 27, 2010 at 7:33 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Sing. subj., sing v.-- and therefore sing. obj. of prep.
>              phr.?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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?)
> Joel
> 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
> >>subject
> >>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
> >>"errors"
> >>only) convince me it's now the rule rather than exception, even in
> >>cable
> >>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
> >
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