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Grammar and Usage

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Matt Has a Big Damon Smile on His Face

Ensuring Subject-Verb Agreement with "One of Those"

Today we continue our fascinating discussion on how to determine which word in our sentence is the subject. Without knowing that, we can’t match it to our verbs and pronouns, and our reader thinks we don’t know what we’re talking about. But before you fall asleep, I warn you that this is one of those situations where the subject is not easy to find. You will not want to miss this episode.

 

In one of those situations our brains often shut down because we can’t find the subject, causing all of our little synapses to short out, so now we really can’t think. We hope that maybe our reader won’t notice. But this is a dangerous game, where proper training, quick thinking, and Matt Damon help. It’s one of those problems about one of those. If I get anymore excited, I might burst.

 

One of Those Problems

One of those is a pattern we frequently see and frequently don’t know how to handle, because the subject might be the singular word One, or it might be the plural word following One. Until we decide, we can’t match the number of the verb or a pronoun. We’re assaulted by our first foe:

 

One of those actors perform/performs many of his/their own stunts.

 

We dispense with this one easily. One is singular and actors is plural, and to determine whether we choose perform or performs, his or their, as the matching verb and pronoun, we ignore the prepositional phrase of those actors; then we join the singular subject One with the singular verb performs and the singular pronoun his.

 

One of those actors perform/performs many of his/their own stunts.

 

That was easy. But we turn, and behind us is a more formidable opponent, one capable of shape-shifting, a more complex villain:

 

One of those actors who perform/performs many of his/their own stunts is Matt Damon.

 

We still have One, and we still have actors, but now we have a clause modifying actors:

 

. . . who perform/performs many of his/their own stunts.

 

Freeze-frame that scene as we go into slo-mo: Who and the words following form a relative (or adjective) clause. A relative clause is a group of words that modify the word (actors) preceding the relative pronoun (who). There are five relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, and that. One of those pronouns will always begin a relative clause to form its own little sentence. So actors by itself is no longer the object of a preposition--actors and the relative clause together are the object--and the verb and pronoun in this relative clause must match the subject modified--actors:

 

. . . actors (who) perform/performs many of his/their own stunts.

 

One of those actors is Matt Damon. So:

 

One of those actors who perform/performs many of his/their own stunts is Matt Damon.

 

Back in regular-mo, even if the sentence shapeshifts into a different form, the subject remains the same:

 

Matt Damon is one of those actors who perform/performs many of his/their own stunts.

 

Cut! As Matt walks away, he has that big Damon smile on his face. Which is a good place to have it.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

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