How To Ensure Proper Noun-Verb Agreement When “One” Mingles with the Plural
During a grammar and style class I took a couple of years ago, I asked my professor a question she was unable to answer: When a sentence contains the dependent clause (often the subject complement) “one of those people who [verb],” is the verb supposed to agree with “one” or “people?” Lucky for me, the answer to my question was sitting in my Chicago Manual of Style.
Refresher: Relative pronouns, such as who, which, what, and that, introduce clauses dependent on and relating to the independent (main) clause. (Section 5.56 of CMS explains this in full.)
Ponder this: Margo is one of those caretakers who treat patients like family.
In order to identify the subject and verb in a complex sentence, I’ve always weeded out nonessential sentence components, such as prepositional phrases. If I did that to figure out which verb to use in the dependent clause (acting as subject complement) in the “ponder this” example, I’d take out the prepositional phrase of those caretakers. This would reduce the sentence to Margo is one who treats patients like family, a grammatically correct sentence in and of itself. But that doesn’t help me understand why I need a plural verb in my “ponder this” example.
Section 5.62 on page 247 of The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., is titled “Relative pronoun and the antecedent “one.” It explains that “if one is part of a noun phrase with a plural noun such as one of the few or one of those, the relative pronoun that comes after”–e.g who in one of those caretakers who–“takes the plural word as its antecedent.” In our example’s case, the “plural word” is those caretakers; the plural verb treat connects a quality affiliated with those people.
To summarize, in Margo is one of those caretakers who treat people like family, “who‘s” antecedent is those caretakers, a plural noun that agrees with the plural verb treat. (Those alone, without caretakers, would still be who‘s plural antecedent.) However, “Margo is one who treats patients like family” is also correct–notice how in that sentence one is NOT part of a noun phrase with a plural noun.
- He is one of the many who make pizza that way. (Who’s antecedent is “many,”a plural noun)
- She is one of those people who help without being asked. (Who’s antecedent is those people a plural noun phrase)
But (and section 5.140 of CMS, “Relative pronouns as subjects,” explains this also) . . .
- He is the kind of person who wants to get on your nerves. (Who‘s antecedent is person [singular].)
- He’s the one who helps me when I have a computer issue. (Who‘s antecendent is one [singular].) (See section 5.140 of CMS, “Relative pronouns as subjects.)
I hope this section helps you as much as it helped me! If you’d like to see a picture of my CMS and all the sticky notes I’ve (seemingly frantically) stuck in it over the past couple of years, check out my other Boston Chick-ago post, “Sticky Note Diaries: Italics or Underline?”