Which word should 'enable' agree here with. Should it be 'rule'(singular) or 'us'(plural)?

  • Using this rule enables us to do X.
  • Using this rule enable us to do X.

Another example where it's reversed - 'switches'(plural), 'the program'(Singular).

  • Using these switches enables the program.
  • Using these switches enable the program.

I had asked a similar question in here before which had this forward/backward agreement issue, here is another example I found:

  • How many people have voted? (Backward agreement, subject precedes verb)
  • "How many people has he helped?" (Forward agreement, subject succeeds verb)

How do I find the subject and the respective verb it should agree with in sentences like these?

  • Non-finite subject clauses like "using this rule" / "using these switches" take singular agreement, so "enables" is correct. In your other examples, the subjects are "how many people", which takes plural agreement ("have) , and "he", which takes singular agreement ("has"). – BillJ Feb 16 at 16:40
  • "using this rule" functions like a singular noun and that's why it is the subject here and why the verb is singular. – Lambie Feb 16 at 17:10
  • The subject is not a noun phrase, but a gerund-participial clause. Clauses are classified according to their internal structure rather than spurious analogies with the parts of speech. Non-finite clauses take singular agreement, and it's the subject here because it controls the verb. – BillJ Feb 16 at 17:55
  • @BillJ ...**functions like a singular noun**. like. – Lambie Feb 17 at 16:02
  • But "It is a noun phrase" according to your answer! – BillJ Feb 17 at 17:11

In each case you figure out what the verb is, then the subject. It's not the position of the verb relative to the subject that matters.


Using this rule enable(s) us to do X.

the verb is clearly "enable(s)". The subject of the verb is whatever does the enabling. That is the noun phrase "Using this rule". So you want the singular verb "enables". That would be a singular noun phrase even if it were "using these rules".


How many people have voted?

the subject of the verb "have" is the plural "How many people" while in

How many people has he helped?

the subject of the verb "has" is the singular "he".

  • This was the whole sentence: "I have been trying to figure out how having context preserving rules enable us to interleave elements." Is it "I" the subject here? but it seems to me that it's not really the subject that does the enabling. – Tangent Feb 16 at 16:16
  • 2
    In that sentence I would write "enables" since the subject of "enable(s) in the phrase beginning "how" is the singular noun phrase "having ... rules". The subject of the main verb "have" is, of course, "I". Note that my analysis is a reverse engineered reconstruction of the grammar based on the fact that I know "enables" sounds right and "enable" does not. – Ethan Bolker Feb 16 at 16:20
  • Don't you think the subject of "How many people have voted" is "how many people", where "how many" is a determiner phrase in the subject NP. and thus part of it? – BillJ Feb 16 at 16:34
  • @BillJ Yes, "How many people", not "people", but still plural. I will edit my answer. As my previous comment to the OP notes, I reconstruct the grammar from what I know sounds right. – Ethan Bolker Feb 16 at 16:37
  • the problem is identifying "using this rule" as the subject, in this case, a noun phrase. I think my answer lays this out clearly. – Lambie Feb 16 at 17:08
  1. Using this rule enables us to do X.

subject of the sentence = using this rule, it is singular. So, third person singular is correct. It is a noun phrase.

The same is true if the noun in the phrase is plural: using these switches. It makes no difference because it is the whole noun phrase that is singular, not the object of the verb using.

  1. One hundred people voted. One hundred people is a subject in that sentence.

Question: How many people voted or have voted?

  1. He has helped many people. [people is a direct object]. Therefore, when you ask how many, it applies to people, which is a direct object: How many people has he helped?

Try creating a statement, and then the question. That makes the structure (subject or direct object) clear.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.