Today I read this sentence somewhere on stackexchange.com (I don't add a source because I don't want to blame anybody):

The [...] postulate [..] is that there is no experiment that determine the state of motion of any inertial frame relative to the outside world [...].

Initially I thought that it shall be "determines" instead but I'm uncertain since it got written by a native English speaker.

Who's right?

  • Somehow I knew the source before checking - I had just clicked that question open in another tab from the hot network questions. But there is little reason to assume this is anything but a typo for to determine, that determines or that can determine.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 12:33
  • In the same answer that you quote from, the author also writes "The speed of light is the measured to be the same in all inertial reference frames". That the does not belong there, either. So indeed I think it's safe to assume typos or honest mistakes, rather than obscure but correct use of English :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 12:45
  • Unless you want to sound jarringly dialectal, use was written, not got written.
    – user6951
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 16:45

3 Answers 3


This is just a typographical error.

You are right in that it should be determines, although can determine would also be acceptable.

The sentence as written could be an error for either possibility.


You're right. The noun & verb should agree in number, singular or plural. The person that posted the statement should have proofread & edited before clicking the Post button. That would be a good practice for anyone posting to any site.

  • Is it really about the number?
    – Fytch
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 15:26
  • @Conclusio I'm not sure about your use of the indefinite pronoun, it. If you mean the topic, no. The content is what's important. If you mean the grammar, yes. According to The Blue Book of Grammar, a singular subject takes a singular verb, whereas a plural subject takes a plural verb.
    – JimM
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 15:48

In English grammar, "number" is just a term used to indicate singular vs. plural, typically for the purposes of subject-verb agreement. It doesn't have anything to do with numbers like five or twenty. If someone asks, "Do the subject and verb agree in number?" then they are asking if a singular noun has a verb conjugated in the singular, or if a plural noun has a verb conjugated in the plural.

Don't be confused by the fact that most plural nouns end with "-s" and most verbs conjugated for the singular end with "-s." This is just a coincidence -- the "-s" conjugation on a verb has nothing do with the "-s" that makes most nouns plural. The verb "walks" is not a "plural" verb because verbs can't be singular or plural (that designation is for nouns/pronouns). The verb "walks" is conjugated for a third-person singular subject, as in "He walks to school every day." When it is conjugated for a plural subject, the verb is "walk," as in "They walk to school every day."

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