grammarpolice.jpgRecently, a comment was left for me on my original "Grammar Police" post, chiding me for using a singular verb with a plural noun. The sentence in question reads:

Everybody knows one of those annoying people who goes around correcting others' grammar.

My reader commented:

You write: “…one of those people who goes…” Oh, come ON, “people” takes a plural verb.

To which I replied:

Yes, “people” is plural and takes a plural verb; however the subject of the verb (goes) is not “people”, it’s “one”, which by definition is singular and therefore it takes a singular verb.

But it bugged me. I tossed and turned all that night. I asked friends. They either weren't sure, or they just looked at me like I'd grown an extra eye in the center of my forehead. So I consulted an expert in the person of Pam Nelson, who is the Features Copy Editor at the Raleigh News & Observer, and the author of the Triangle Grammar Guide Web Log.

Pam's response to my inquiry:

One way I have seen this explained is that the sentence needs to be turned around: Of those annoying people who go [plural, so not goes] around correcting others' grammar, I am one. The verb needs to agree with the subject of the clause, not with "one." In other words, more than one of those annoying people exist, and the "one" is one of them. This is the way Bryan Garner treats this construction in his "Garner's Modern American Usage." William Sabin uses a similar explanation in his "Gregg Reference Manual."

I bow to higher authority. Ms. Nelson does this for a living, whereas I'm just a hobbyist with egg on my face.

Thank you to Reader David for calling my attention to this faux pas, and to Pam, for her quick response and for setting me straight.