1

The typical rule (e.g. here) is that number agreement for a sentence with an interrupting phrase should be with the item before the interrupting phrase. For example:

  1. Joseph needs to buy some new clothes

would become

  1. Joseph, not to mention his brother Reuben, needs to buy some new clothes.

That is, "needs" remains in agreement with the singular, and does not change to the plural "need". And even if add a word as follows:

  1. Joseph, not to mention his brother Reuben, needs to buy himself some new clothes.

Still, I believe the rule is to focus on that singular "Joseph", so the word added is "himself" and not something like "themselves" (I'm not sure even that's correct, but that's not important here. The core question is, whatever the added word, does it remain singular?)

But suppose I really push it, as follows;

  1. Joseph--not to mention his brothers Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, and Judah--needs to buy himself some new clothes.

(I've switched to an em-dash for the parenthesis only because the list commas would confuse)

Now the interrupting phrase dominates, and there's a temptation to want to move to:

  1. Joseph--not to mention his brothers Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, and Judah--need to buy themselves some new clothes.

While that still breaks the rule, there's now a nagging feeling that in such a case the rule is wrong!

Now in practice, I would deal with this by rephrasing. I'd do that by moving the main mention of the brothers outside the interrupting phrase, leaving the phrase as a mere elucidation as to said brothers names. Something like:

  1. Joseph and his brothers--Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, and Judah--need to buy themselves some new clothes.

In one sense that's exactly the right thing to do, because the very fact that I see the big interrupting phrase as so dominant suggests that in terms of what I'm trying to say it should not be an interruption! But in another sense, I'm taking the coward's approach by avoiding the question entirely. :-)

So, is 5. actually wrong and to be avoided?

1

Nonessential information (whatever is inside a pair of commas, parentheses, or em dashes, and which can be removed without altering the main sense of the sentence itself) should never effect the syntax of any surrounding text.

Nonessential information should never effect the syntax of any surrounding text.

In other words, compose your sentence as if the, in your words, interrupting phrase doesn't exist at all.

In other words, compose your sentence as if the interrupting phrase doesn't exist at all.

If you let the optional text effect anything ("My word, what is tha—squirrel!"), then the construction of the essential information is ungrammatical.

If you let the optional text effect anything, then the construction of the essential information is ungrammatical.

Having said that, just because it is constructed correctly, that doesn't mean that it—or the thousands of similar things—sounds natural.

Having said that, just because it is constructed correctly, that doesn't mean that it sounds natural.

If something is correct but awkward, then rephrase it until it is both correct and no longer awkward.


Having said that, just because it—like thousands of similar things—is constructed correctly, that doesn't mean that it sounds natural.

Having said that, just because it is constructed correctly, that doesn't mean that it sounds natural.


Taking your example sentence, I would rephrase it so it correct and no longer awkward. The only way I can think of doing so is by making essential what was originally nonessential:

Joseph needs to buy himself some new clothes—as do his brothers Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, Gad, Benjamin, and Judah.

The information about the brothers could be left as nonessential, but there's so much of it that no matter how it's done I feel it would overwhelm the rest of the sentence, leaving too much separation between the start and end.

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This example feels painful and contrived! Strictly 5 in incorrect, but I think the main problem is the "not to mention Reuben...", clause. "Not to mention" idiom doesn't really fit in this context. If the example was something like:

Joseph - who is shopping with his brothers Ruben, Simeon, .... - needs to buy himself some new clothes.

then it feels more natural. With this example 5 is definitely wrong.

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