Northern English Subject Agreement Rule

Bernard Comrie comrie at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Jul 31 14:06:15 UTC 1998

To:     ALT Discussion List
Cc:     Juhani Klemola
From:   Bernard Comrie
Date:   31 Jul 98
Subj:   Northern English Subject Agreement Rule

A colleague from the University of Leeds School of English, Juhani Klemola,
has drawn my attention to some interesting syntactic data from certain
Northern English dialects, and I wonder if the combined wisdom of readers
of the ALT discussion list could draw to my attention any close parallels
from other languages.

In the relevant dialects of English, third person plural subjects require
the third person singular form of the verb unless immediately preceded by
the third person plural subject pronoun, thus giving rise to the following

        1.      They run.
        2.      Horses runs.
        3.      they that runs [relative clause]
        4.      They peel them and boils them.

The construction has been compared with phenomena in Celtic, and even a
Celtic substrate suggested, but the Celtic phenomena seem to me to be at
least somewhat different (e.g. literary Welsh has the plural verb form not
only with an adjacent third person plural subject pronoun, but also in the
absence of a subject pronoun).

Please let me know in particular if you aware of any closer parallels to
the Northern Subject Rule from other languages. The system seems to have an
elegant internal logic--adjacent subject pronoun and verb agreement are in
complementary distribution. If appropriate, I will post a summary.

Prof. Dr. Bernard Comrie           Director, Linguistics Section

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22                            tel +49 341 99 52 301
D-04103 Leipzig                  tel secretary +49 341 99 52 300
Germany                                    fax +49 341 99 52 119

E-mail:                                        comrie at

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list