Monday Morning Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement III—Indefinite and Relative Pronouns

So far in Mots Justes’ continuing series on subject-verb agreement, we’ve covered the basics and compound subjects. Let’s move on now to the tricky matter of indefinite and relative pronouns.

Nothing’s Definite

Indefinite pronouns substitute for nonspecific nouns. They include any, anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, none, no one, someone, and something. Usually indefinite pronouns are treated as singular:

Is anyone going to Jim’s new art exhibit this weekend?
Everybody agrees that Derrick should skip the concert to go to Jim’s show.

As usual, there are exceptions. None and neither take singular verbs when they are used alone:

None is willing to miss Jim and Derrick’s annual Halloween party.
Neither has ever not celebrated the holiday.

However, when a prepositional phrase following none or neither suggests a plural meaning, use a plural verb:

None of their friends wear costumes as elaborate as Jim and Derrick do.
Neither of the hosts spare any expense when it comes to dressing up for Halloween.

Also, a handful of indefinite pronouns—all, any, and some—takes a singular or plural verb depending on the number of its antecedent:

All of the kegs have already been tapped.
However, some of the beer is still left in pitchers.

It’s All Relative

Relative pronouns set up subordinate clauses that modify a noun or pronoun. They include who, whom, whose, which, and that. Relative pronouns take the verb number that agrees with their antecedents:

Jim, who is a photographer, incorporates pictures of his friends into his artwork.
Derrick composes lyrics that tell stories from his life.

Adding to the complexity of relative pronoun-verb agreement are the phrases one of the … and only one of the …. Generally, one of the … takes a plural verb, while only one of the … takes a singular:

One of the things that always attract partygoers to Jim and Derrick’s Halloween bash is the elaborate themed buffet.

Here, the antecedent of that is things, not one.

Elisha is the only one of their friends that does not come in costume.

But here the antecedent of that is one.

Next week on Monday Morning Grammar, we wrap up our series on subject-verb agreement with a post on funky sentence construction.

Resources

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

Caught in the ’Net

Playwright Mark Ravenhill writes about how writers shouldn’t write about writing.

Here are “12 Greek Works You Should Know.”

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