plural agreement for singular subjects

Greville Corbett g.corbett at SURREY.AC.UK
Wed Jan 31 10:14:01 UTC 2007

I think the nice example Guillaume cites is an instance of the Œevasive
plural¹, avoiding the use of Œhe¹ or Œshe¹. (Some languages use a neuter to
evade the masculine/plural choice in related but not identical contexts.)

Other phenomena which are general, and which aren¹t I suspect what Stuart
has in mind, are:

1. associative uses of the plural or dual, in those instances where it is
just the agreement which shows associative use. For instance, in the Talitsk
dialect of Russian you say the equivalent of  Œmy brother have arrived¹ to
indicate my brother and family.
2. respect: e.g. dual agreement with a singular subject in Kobon, to show
3. committee nouns in English: the committee have decided
4. instances of attraction: Rise in email viruses threaten net. (Guardian

Examples of all these are in Number and Agreement (CUP). What Stuart has is
a bit different. 


Greville Corbett

On 31/1/07 08:48, "guillaume cnrs" <segerer at VJF.CNRS.FR> wrote:

> Hi
> Would it seem stupid to mention english ? There is a famous song by Sting with
> these words :
> If you love somebody, set them free (
> Being a non-native amateur english speaker, I wonder if you would accept words
> such as "someone", "somebody" as a 'subclass of singular nouns'.
> Regards
> Guillaume Segerer
>> I was wondering whether people on the list know of languages that allow
>> plural agreement with some subclass of singular nouns. I have found that
>> in Rotokas (a non-Austronesian language spoken in Bougainville, Papua New
>> Guinea), neuter subjects (which normally take zero subject agreement)
>> sometimes occur with the agreement usually found with plural subjects.
>> For example, here's the usual plural subject agreement (-i) with a plural
>> subject (riroirara kopiipairara):
>> riro-irara  kopii-pa-irara tou-pa-i-voi      eisi ruvaru-pa kepa-ia
>> many-pl.hum sick-dv-pl.hum loc  sick-dv   house-loc
>> Many sick people are in the medical station. / Plenti sik manmeri ol i stap
>> long haus marasin.
>> And here's plural subject agreement (-i) with a singular neuter noun
>> (evaova): 
>> evao-va   koki-vira      tou-pa-i-voi
>> tree-sg.f have.holes-adv
>> The tree has holes. / Diwai i gat hol.
>> Thanks in advance.
>> Regards, 
>> Stuart Robinson 
>> + -----------------------------------------------------+
>> | Stuart Robinson <stuart dot robinson at mpi dot nl>  |
>> | Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics           |
>> | Postbus 310                                          |
>> | 6500 AH Nijmegen                                     |
>> | The Netherlands                                      |
>> | +31 (0)64 854 6708 (mobile)                          |
>> |            |
>> + -----------------------------------------------------+

Greville G. Corbett

Surrey Morphology Group
School of Arts, Communication and Humanities
University of Surrey
Guildford                                   email: g.corbett at
Surrey, GU2 7XH                             FAX:   +44 1483 686201
Great Britain                               phone:  +44 1483 682849

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