Welcome to College Confidential!

The leading college-bound community on the web

Sign Up For Free

Join for FREE, and start talking with other members, weighing in on community polls, and more.

Also, by registering and logging in you'll see fewer ads and pesky welcome messages (like this one!)

As a CC member, you can:

About a rule in subject-verb agreement and subject agreement

MdeMde Posts: 434Registered User Member
edited November 2009 in SAT Preparation
Rule 13. Sometimes the pronoun who, that, or which is the subject of a verb in the middle of the sentence. The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them. So, if that noun is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.
Examples: Salma is the scientist who writes/write the reports.
The word in front of who is scientist, which is singular. Therefore, use the singular verb writes.
He is one of the men who does/do the work.
The word in front of who is men, which is plural. Therefore, use the plural verb do.

Now for an SAT question:
George Thornton Emmons was one of a handful of ethnographers who committed their life to studying the Tlingit culture of the Northwest coast

This was identifying sentence errors, now say the "who" wasn't there and this was in the present, commit would be in the plural still right? If this were true why isn't "life" also plural? Or is this only a subject-verb rule and the antecedents still refer back to the George who is only one person?
Post edited by Mde on

Replies to: About a rule in subject-verb agreement and subject agreement

  • crazybanditcrazybandit Posts: 1,735Registered User Senior Member
    This was identifying sentence errors, now say the "who" wasn't there and this was in the present, commit would be in the plural still right?

    yes

    "their" refers to "ethnographers" and so does "life"
    If this were true why isn't "life" also plural?

    It is more common for people to use "their lives" than to use "their life" but the latter is still used. I don't know if it is grammatically correct but here is an article about it:
    usage3.xml - Institutionen för humaniora - Växjö universitet

    In other words, "life" not being plural has nothing to do with the rule that you posted nor subject-verb agreement.

    most people would say it should be "lives." so, what book is this question from?
  • silverturtlesilverturtle Posts: 12,496Registered User Senior Member
    There should be no doubt that "life" is logically incorrect in this context. "their life," in my opinion, is only acceptable when "their" is being used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
  • silverturtlesilverturtle Posts: 12,496Registered User Senior Member
    Worker Bob is one of the underpaid workers who works as a block-maker.

    Worker Bob is one of the underpaid workers who works as a block-maker.


    I think the above sentences indicate that the rule the OP posted is not always correct. In the first sentence, it is conveyed that Bob is one of the underpaid workers and that he works as a block-maker.

    The second sentence conveys that Bob is among the workers whose job is block-making.
  • mcpheevnmcpheevn Posts: 174Registered User Junior Member
    But the thing is, the first phrase is grammatically incorrect as an adjective clause ('who works as a block-maker') that modifies Worker Bob (not 'underpaid workers') should be placed next to the noun it modifies. (It was one of the few errors introduced in the Barron's book actually). So if an adjective clause is placed after 'one of (plural nouns)' then it's likely that the clause modifies the plural noun and thus must be in plural form.
  • mifunemifune Posts: 2,757Registered User Senior Member
    It should be "their lives" -
  • TheyCallMeCCTheyCallMeCC Posts: 953- Member
    all i have to say is that my english teacher from last year tore us apart when we wrote 'their' followed by a singular...anything. [e.g. their life]. insisted it had to be his/her life. but how the hell could u write 'his or her life' throughout a research paper or something? D:
  • MD MomMD Mom Posts: 6,728Registered User Senior Member
    You have to find the subject.

    Salma writes the report.
    He does the work.
    George Thorton Emmons was one who commited his life...

    Subjects are not in the prepositional phrases so the whole closest to the verb stuff is not correct.

    The rule where you match the verb to the closest noun is when you have a compound subject joined by or or nor. Example: The doctor or the nurses are leaving the hospital. The nurses or the doctor is leaving the hospital. Yes, the second one sounds funny but it is correct.

    To study this, look up subject-verb agreement and prepositional phrases. Many of the examples for the SAT are agreement problems.
  • silverturtlesilverturtle Posts: 12,496Registered User Senior Member
    "But the thing is, the first phrase is grammatically incorrect as an adjective clause ('who works as a block-maker') that modifies Worker Bob (not 'underpaid workers') should be placed next to the noun it modifies. (It was one of the few errors introduced in the Barron's book actually). So if an adjective clause is placed after 'one of (plural nouns)' then it's likely that the clause modifies the plural noun and thus must be in plural form."

    No, the way I wrote the sentence was such that, if I were to remove the intervening prepositional phrase, it would read,

    "Worker Bob is one who works as a block-maker."

    The prepositional phrase is "of the underpaid workers." Because it's intervening in the first example I gave, it would not affect the verb agreement.

    In the first sentence, the relative pronoun is signaling the modification of Worker Bob; in the second sentence, the same relative pronoun signals the modification of the underpaid workers. The verb agreement reflects this.
  • mcpheevnmcpheevn Posts: 174Registered User Junior Member
    But in grammatically correct English, no one would put the intervening prepositional phrase (PP) in such an awkward position that the relative pronoun could ambiguously modify either the main subject or the phrase subject. Sure, an intervening PP could be used in cases like 'A cluster of grapes was hanging', where it is clear and logical the verb was modifying the main subject. If you want to specify that Bob alone and not the underpaid workers was a block maker, the sentence should be, 'Bob, who is one of the underpaid workers, works as a block-maker' or 'Bob, who is a block maker, is one of the underpaid workers' (depending on what fact you want to emphasize, but in both cases the pronoun follows the modified noun directly in front of it), or for conciseness' sake, 'Bob, an underpaid worker, is a block-maker' (this would be the correct choice in a sentence correction question).

    I believe the claim you are making is that the Rule 13 is not always the case in certain instances, which I think happen really rare in clear English. Plus, the SAT is not going to trick you on this so one should be confident in applying this rule.
  • MdeMde Posts: 434Registered User Member
    Eh i don't think you guys understood my question. I understood their life is wrong.. without even reading the sentence "their life" makes no sense as some of you have said their always has to follow a plural noun. My only question is why is life not plural. Is it because the antecedent to "life" just George and not all the workers? I only brought this question up because since the verb, commit, is supposed to be plural due to it being next to "of the ethnographers," what would life be?

    I'm not saying I didn't see "their life" is wrong, it's clearly incorrect and I probably picked it without even reading the sentence because yeah "their lives" is the correct thing. What I'm asking is: what would the correct one be? "his life" or "their lives" and why? Who is the antecedent, "their/his" referring too and how can you tell.
  • mcpheevnmcpheevn Posts: 174Registered User Junior Member
    I think I understand your question. By arguing against silverturtle's point, I'm saying that you should not hesitate to be heavy-handed in applying Rule 13. That would means it should be 'their lives' as the 'who' is right after 'ethnographers' - its antecedent. If you want to keep the 'committing to studying' part as the center of the sentence and for it to modifies George alone, it would be 'George Thornton Emmons, who was one of a handful of ethnographers, committed his life to studying the Tlingit culture of the Northwest coast', though in this case it sounds awkward as we don't know what is so special about this 'handful of ethnographers'.
Sign In or Register to comment.