For the following sentence:

  • The rise in recent criminal attack incidents in the world indicate the impotency of law.

There are many nouns in the sentence before the verb indicate such as:

  • rise
  • attack
  • incidents
  • world

How do I determine which noun the verb agrees with? So, if it agrees wih rise then it should be indicates because rise is singular.

For simple sentences I had no problems but here I feel confused.

Is there a way to identify so that I can confidently put indicates there instead of indicate?

1 Answer 1


The words "attack," "incidents," and "world" follow prepositions and so are not the subject of the verb, which should therefore be "indicates" rather than "indicate."

It is permissible in English to modify a noun by a noun, but it frequently leads to awkward or confusing sentences. "The recent global rise in criminal attacks indicates the impotency of law" seems a lot clearer to me.

EDIT: Based on the OP's comment below, I am expanding my original answer. Prepositional phrases in English serve several purposes, but the basic structure is a preposition followed by a noun. The noun in a prepositional phrase, what in the traditional grammar was called the object of the preposition, is not the subject of a verb. A prepostional phrase may precede or follow the subject of the verb.

"In Paris, rioters were burning cars," "Rioters in Paris were burning cars," and "Rioters were burning cars in Paris" have virtually identical meanings. The subject of the verb "were burning" in each case is "rioters." And in each case, either no preposition precedes "rioters" in the sentence, or else a noun intervenes between a preceding preposition and the subject of the verb.

In your example, this rule is disguised by the compound noun "attack incidents," which is one reason to avoid such compounds, but if the noun "incidents" is interpreted as the subject, then the noun "rise" has no grammatical role to play at all. So, on grammatical grounds, "rise" must be the subject.

It is, however, no wonder that asking a logical question about the meaning of this question leads to bafflement about grammatical structure because the sentence quoted makes little or no logical sense.

The existence of even one crime, whether or not it is an attack, demonstrates that the law is not omnipotent. A failure to achieve omnipotence, however, does not entail impotence: there is an intermediate range. A fall in the number of crimes would not demonstrate the omnipotence of the law; neither does a rise indicate its utter impotence.

It is possible to utter nonsense grammatically. Your uncertainty about the grammar was caused by the lack of logic in the thought.

  • The subject will be always be before prepositions in any sentence? In this case I identified 'in' as two prepositions that come before these words you mentioned. So, 'rise' should the subject. It seemed confusing for me because I tried to ask myself: "Who is, or what is indicating?" The answer seemed to be "incidents" are indicating. The question usually worked but not sure here.
    – user92131
    Dec 31, 2018 at 21:30
  • @user92131 I have tried to respond to your thoughtful comment by expanding my original answer. Dec 31, 2018 at 22:17

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