8

I was reading about pronouns and found this rule which I don't get at all.

The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural depending on the subject. If the subject is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.

Example: He is the only one of those men who is always on time. The word who refers to one. Therefore, use the singular verb is.

Sometimes we must look more closely to find a verb's true subject:

Example: He is one of those men who are always on time. The word who refers to men. Therefore, use the plural verb are.

In sentences like this last example, many would mistakenly insist that one is the subject, requiring is always on time. But look at it this way: Of those men who are always on time, he is one.

I don't understand this at all. Isn't the subject "He"?

9

As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The writer of that piece of advice is badly informed.

To start, let's just look at these two versions of a possible sentence.

  1. He is one of those men who is always on time.

  2. He is one of those men who are always on time.

There are these two types of possible interpretation for the sentences:

A: He is one of those men. He is always on time.

B: He is one of those men. Those men are always on time.

Now it would be nice, wouldn't it, if sentence (1) always meant A, and sentence (2) always meant B. However, that's not the case. The fact is that native speakers, both in speech and writing, often use (1) to express B. The reason is that the word one often overrides normal verb agreement. In other words although sentence (2) definitely expresses B, sentence (1) would be used to express either A or B.

Here is what a vetted grammar source, based on real data, the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has to say about this:

. . . The relativized element in these examples is object. Where it is the subject that is relativized, the expectation would be that the number of the verb would be determined by the antecedent, giving a plural verb in Type I, and a singular in Type II. In practice, however, singular verbs are often found as alternants of plurals in Type I:

[22]

  • i. He's [one of those people who always want to have the last word]. -- (Type I )

  • ii. He's [one of those people who always wants to have the last word]. -- (Type I )

  • iii. He's [one of her colleagues who is always ready to criticize her]. -- (Type II )

Examples [i] and [iii] follow the ordinary rules, but [ii] involves a singular override. It can presumably be attributed to the salience within the whole structure of one and to the influence of the Type II structure (it is in effect a blend between Types I and II ). But it cannot be regarded as a semantically motivated override: semantically the relative clause modifies people. This singular override is most common when the relative clause follows those or those + noun.

Now if you think about the following sentences carefully, you will see that the same thing applies:

  1. He is the only one of those men who is always on time.
  2. He is the only one of those men who are always on time.

C He is the one of those men. Only he is always on time.

D He is the only one of those men. They are always on time.

Sentence (3) could be used to mean either C or D. Sentence 4 can only be used for D.

In this kind of situation, thinking about the grammar is not the most useful guide. Even working out what the grammar is will take you quite some time. Go with your intuition!

References:

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston & Pullum [et al], 2002.

4

Parsing of such a sentence (or such sentences) gets easier if you pay attention to the subtle differences. Let's put them close together

He is the only one of those men who is always on time.
He is one of those men who are always on time.

What is the main difference (besides is/are)? It's the words "the only". Those two words are a determiner that requires a definition to go along with it. For instance, "John was the only human" is an incomplete sentence, logically. It calls for a question, "John was the only human that what?", or, "In what way was John the only human?". To make that sentence complete you need a definition, e.g. "...that could talk to animals" or, simply "...left".

Back to your two sentences. In the first one, the words "the only" make the following phrase, "one of those men", which is the subject of the first 'is' verb, to be in some way exclusively defined, but in what way? That's what the second clause of that sentence is for:

... who is always on time.

The choice of the verb here is governed by the fact that "one of those men" is in fact a single entity.

"But what about the second sentence?!", you may exclaim. "It has 'one of those men' too!". Yes, it does. However, try locating the determiner. Within the entire main clause, there is only one, "those". And that determiner is plural. Hence the word that is defined by the second clause is "men", and not "one". And that's why we use "are" there.

He is one of those men who are always on time.

So, it's not the matter of finding the subject of the first clause, but the word to which the second clause (with the verb in question) is attached.

1

1) He's one of those men who is always on time.

2) He's one of those men who are always on time.

3) He's the only one of those men who is always on time.

For sure, there's no object in these sentences; "he" is the subject.

All these sentences are OK grammatically, However, the sentence #1 contrasts in meaning with the #2 and the #3. Sentences #2 and #3 have the same meaning, but the #3 is more emphatic because of the use of "only".

Actually, when "he is one of those" means that he is like those men, you use a plural verb after who and when the one is distinct from those men and refers to his individuality or uniqueness, you use a singular verb after who.

So the first sentence implies that he is like those men who are always on time, whereas the second and third sentences mean that he is distinct from those men in the sense that he is always on time.

0

Yes. "He" is the subject, but only to the first clause:

He is one of the those men.

However, the subject of the second "clause" is men, hence the use of "are":

Those men who are always on time.

  • 1
    This is basically just restating the rule given, which was already stated to be confusing. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 18 '15 at 23:59
  • @NathanTuggy On the contrary. Ahmed has given a succinct and easy way to understand the problem which the OP has with Subjects in relation to the current question. +1 – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 19 '15 at 9:40

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