come vs comes

A prefix is a letter or a group of letters that ………. at the beginning of a word.

 

1) comes

2) come

 

I would use "come" because of the preceding noun, which is "letter". However, I am not sure whether "comes" is ungrammatical here.

 

Thanks.

Original Post
Freeguy posted:

A prefix is a letter or a group of letters that ………. at the beginning of a word.

 

1) comes

2) come

 

I would use "come" because of the preceding noun, which is "letter". However, I am not sure whether "comes" is ungrammatical here.

 

Thanks.

Hi, FREEGUY,

I think here the verb should agree with the nearer subject, which is 'a group of letters', and automatically I would use: 'comes'.

As you know 'group' could take a singular or a plural verb. Here you don't refer to each letter of the prefix individually, but you see them as one unit.

BTW, the definition of 'prefix' on 'LDOCE' is: A group of letters that is added to ...

DOC V has talked about using 'or' in one of his threads, but, unfortunately, I don't know which one.

 

Freeguy posted:

A prefix is a letter or a group of letters that ………. at the beginning of a word.

1) comes
2) come

Hi, Freeguy,

I agree with Ahmed_btm that (1) ("comes") is the correct answer here. A relative clause doesn't always modify the noun that comes immediately before it. In this case, the relative modifies the noun phrase "a group of letters," whose head -- "group" -- is singular. Hence the verb should agree with the singular subject.

While answer (2) ("come") is not ungrammatical, since it is possible for the relative clause to modify the plural noun "letters," it gives the wrong meaning. With "come," the sentence would refer to groups like "unprenonre-unretromiscontraultra," whereas we want it to individual prefixes, such as "pre."

Thanks.

 

Practical English Usage, Michael Swan, Page 520:

Many singular quantifying expressions can be used with plural nouns and pronouns; plural verbs are normally used in this case:

- A group of us are going to take a boat through the French canals.

 

What's the difference, then?

Freeguy posted:
Practical English Usage, Michael Swan, Page 520:


Many singular quantifying expressions can be used with plural nouns and pronouns; plural verbs are normally used in this case:

- A group of us are going to take a boat through the French canals.

What's the difference, then?

Hello again, Freeguy,

The difference is that, in sentences like the one you asked about, "a group of X" picks out a specific individual group with specific members (like "p-r-e").

"A group of us are going" is simply talking about a plurality of people that includes the speaker. It's like saying "A bunch of bananas are in the refrigerator."

In place of "a group of letters," in the sentence you originally asked about, you could use the phrase "a letter group," which is more obviously singular.

  • A prefix is a letter or a letter group that comes at the beginning of a word.
ruifeng posted:

I think the relative clause modifies both "a letter" and "a group of letters". The reason that it takes the singular form is also because of the word "or". Am I right?

Hi, Ruifeng,

No, the reason for the singular form does not have anything to do with "or." However, the relative clause does implicitly apply to the first disjunct. The sentence may be regarded as a reduction of the following:

  • A prefix is a letter that comes at the beginning of a word or a group of letters that comes at the beginning of a word.

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