Reply to "Adjective clauses"

Mt.Sea presents the noun phrase "a group of people"--consisting of a head noun and a prepositional phrase, with a modifying adjective clause, "who are different from themselves....".

Mt Sea wonders whether the verb in the adjective clause really should be plural, since the head of the noun phrase "group of people" is the singular noun group, not the plural noun people, which is the object of the preposition of.

The answer in this case is yes, the verb should be in the plural, because in this utterance the adjective clause modifies the plural noun people.

The number of the verb in the adjective clause depends on whether the adjective clause is about the head noun or about the noun object of the preposition. If the adjective clause is about the head, the verb in the adjective clause will agree with the head, for example

1a) A group of people that was too large to fit comfortably into the lecture room was moved to the auditorium

Is the idea of "being large" about the size of the people? No, it's about the size of the group.

Now, in contrast, look at this utterance:

1b) The study involved a group of people who were too large to fit comfortably into regular airline seats

The idea of "being large" is now about the members of the group--the people.

Compare also:

2a) A group of irate citizens that gets out of hand is often more dangerous than a group of enemy soldiers

2b) A group of irate citizens who were fed up with paying high taxes circulated a petition

If the adjective clause is about the head of the noun phrase, the verb in the clause will agree with the head, as in 1a and 2a. If the adjective clause is about the noun object of the preposition, the verb in the clause will agree with that noun, as in 1b and 2b.

Marilyn Martin
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