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Essentially, I wonder that if X is a plural noun, should we use a plural or singular verb in a sentence such as "X are a subject that [verb] ..."? I believe that we should always use the singular verb form there (for example, "Eatable flowers are a subject that comes up ..."). However, I was surprised to find this sentence on the Eatable Flowers FAQ page:

Eatable flowers are a subject that come up in almost all cooking classes eventually and I am a big fan of them.

as well as this on Google Books:

Tools are a subject that come up at our house from time to time.

I think they are typos, but I would like a double check to be sure.

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Ah, eatable and not edible. My recent question! –  Maulik V Mar 17 at 13:52
    
@MaulikV I followed a link in your question! ;-) –  Damkerng T. Mar 17 at 13:53
    
I found the solution in a book. I rewrote my answer. –  Maulik V Mar 19 at 12:56
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2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Well, I found it!

This is from the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.

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.

So, in your sentence,

Eatable flowers are a subject that comes up in almost all cooking classes eventually and I am a big fan of them.

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I agree with your second example that singular nouns are much easier to deal with since there is no confusion regarding the subject's plurality. I'm not sure I agree with your first example though, since in my opinion "that" refers to "subject" (singular), even though "subject" refers back to "tools" in plural. The sub-clause is "subject that" so we should use a singular verb form. –  JMB Mar 17 at 14:24
    
@JMB, well, your comment makes it clearer. If the second sentence sounds correct, it's the world history that embraces all humanity and other things mentioned there, right? –  Maulik V Mar 17 at 14:27
    
"When that is used to reintroduce something previously mentioned, it applies to the main subject". That's not true, at least not in general. "I want a dog that doesn't have fleas". It's the object ("a dog"), not the subject ("I"), whose fleas are under discussion. Confusingly, the object of these sentences is "a subject" :-) But it is the object of the sentence under discussion in the clause following "that". You can think of "a subject that embraces all humanity" as a compound noun to which "World history" is equated in the sentence. –  Steve Jessop Mar 17 at 18:09
    
@SteveJessop Yes, I found it. Changed the answer entirely. –  Maulik V Mar 19 at 12:55
    
@JMB Yes, I found it. Changed the answer entirely. Thanks for your input. –  Maulik V Mar 19 at 12:55
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A useful question, although my answer is a little opinionated. I've really based this on my own experience and thoughts.

I think there are two factors in play here. Firstly, we have the verb introducing the subject (or topic). In your examples these are both plural nouns so "are" seems to come naturally. But imagine the nouns being surrounded by quotation marks, since "topic" refers to the concept rather than the plurality of the nouns. With this logic applied, we should use "is":

"Eatable flowers" is a subject...

This doesn't look great and is certainly not best practice, but could be valid given the above logic.

The second factor is the one you specifically asked about. In my opinion, after words like "subject" or "topic", we must use the singular verb form since we are now referring to the singular word "subject" or "topic". We have sufficiently introduced what the subject is, and now we are referring to the word subject rather than what it is. Voicing your examples out loud, I naturally said "comes up" each time. I think the plural form really sounds out of place as my ear is concentrating on "subject" rather than "eatable flowers" or "tools".

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I'm sorry that I made a typo. I meant to say the singular verb form, i.e. "Tools are a subject that comes up ...". I think I agree with your answer. –  Damkerng T. Mar 17 at 13:44
    
Yeah, I figured there was a typo! No worries though, because I reckoned we were on the same page from the start. –  JMB Mar 17 at 14:21
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