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Which one would you prefer, and why?

  1. It should be able to handle dependencies between A and B, which constitute an important class of problems.

  2. It should be able to handle dependencies between A and B, which constitutes an important class of problems.

You might then ask, “What, specifically, constitutes an important class of problems? Is it the handling of dependencies or those dependencies themselves?” I personally don’t see much of a difference. The presence of dependencies kind of implies that you have to do something about them. And sure, you can choose to ignore them. My question is then, What does a native speaker’s intuition tell? Which word would surprise a native speaker the least?

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    Could you clarify what is the important class of problems here? The dependencies or the ability to handle dependencies/the handling of dependencies? The answer depends on that and I seem to be reading it differently from the two other people here. – rdelfin Nov 3 '17 at 20:40
  • @rdelfin, I’ve updated the question. – Ivan Nov 4 '17 at 5:20
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Grammatically, they are both correct, with different meanings.


It should be able to handle dependencies between A and B, which constitute an important class of problems.

Here, "constitute" relates to "dependencies".


It should be able to handle dependencies between A and B, which constitutes an important class of problems.

Here, "constitutes" relates to "to handle".

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A good technique for this is to try to condense the sentence down into less words. For example:

  1. The handling constitute an important class of problems.
  2. The handling constitutes an important class of problems.

Here it's easy to see the second option is the correct one. The problem arises because it might seem to our brains initially like the subject to which "which" is referring to is the dependencies (plural). This would imply the first sentence is correct. However, it actually refers to the handing itself (singular), which implies the second sentence is correct.

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  • This seems completely wrong to me. The "subject" of which is effectively the first half of a "copula" form (X constitutes Y = X is Y). The second half of the copula has "ambiguous" plurality, in that we can reasonably say either of Red top is a class of UK newspapers specialising in sensationalism or Red tops are a class..., but I doubt many people would like Red tops is... or Red top are. In OP's example, the first half of the copula is dependencies between A and B - which is obviously plural, so the correct verb form is #1 constitute. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 3 '17 at 17:52
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    Sorry, but I think this is just wrong. "Handling" never appears in the original sentence, so it can't be the subject. What constitutes the important class of problems? The dependencies - so they constitute. – stangdon Nov 3 '17 at 17:53
  • I might be reading the sentence wrong. When I read this, what I'm seeing is that the important class of problems is the handling of dependencies, or alternatively, the ability to handle dependencies, as opposed to dependencies themselves. That's why I condensed it down in that way. This sounds like something I would hear in my field of study, and it makes more sense to interpret the sentence as such, though a clarification from Ivan would help. – rdelfin Nov 3 '17 at 20:38
  • I'll fix it as soon as I get a clarification – rdelfin Nov 3 '17 at 20:39

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