Page 3: ... However such issues can still arise – as was seen in the Brown case, considered later, and the ongoing issue of the ‘rights’ relating to assisted suicide...

3. This was originally question 3 here: such issues is plural, so why's the verb (after 'as') singular? Is this verb called the copula?

User StoneyB kindly replied:

The verb is singular because its subject is singular.

Is "such issues can still arise" "the entire superordinate clause" in StoneyB's words? I do accept this as the subject, but how can clauses have grammatical number? What does this mean?

  • A clause has a default person and number of 3rd person singular. E.g. "[What they want] is [peace and quiet]", the clause "What they want" is treated as being a 3rd person singular subject for subject/verb agreement in the matrix clause. (Edited: Er, "What they want" might be ambiguous, either a subordinate interrogative clause or a noun phrase.)
    – F.E.
    Aug 26, 2014 at 9:18

1 Answer 1


Clauses do not have inherent number, but when a clause is employed under the category of an NP it must be treated as either singular or plural. A single clause so employed is treated as a singular entity; two or more coordinated clauses so employed are treated as a plural entity.

That John is hungry is an effect of his fast.
That John is hungry, that he is feeble and that he is incoherent are effects of his fast.

An 'NP' is not the same thing as a 'noun phrase'. A noun phrase is a phrase headed by a noun, while an 'NP' (pronounced En-Pee) is a phrase which plays certain (not all) syntactic roles typical of a noun or noun phrase. Thus a clause (which is headed by a verb) cannot be a noun phrase, but it can be (as in these examples) an NP.

  • Thank you effusively for your detail. I apologise, but am glad to be enlightened now! Would you mind moving your comment into your answer?
    – user8712
    Aug 26, 2014 at 13:15

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