LINGUIST List 15.2332

Wed Aug 18 2004

Sum: 'Who' & 'What' in Subject-verb Concord Revised

Editor for this issue: Jessica Boynton <>


  1. Hideo HIBINO, 'who' and 'what' in subject-verb concord

Message 1: 'who' and 'what' in subject-verb concord

Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2004 23:48:22 +0900
From: Hideo HIBINO <>
Subject: 'who' and 'what' in subject-verb concord

Note: This issue is a revised version of a previous summary 
(Linguist 15.2322) updated to accomodate the following information:
linguist P, formerly listed as a New Zealander, is an American who
currently teaches in New Zealand.

Thank you very much for your responses to my questionnaire 
(Linguist 15.2255) about 'who' and 'what' in subject-verb concord.

I received responses from 16 of you linguists; 9 AmE speakers, 5 BrE
speakers, 1 Australian and 1 New Zealander.

I am pleased to present to you a tentative summary of responses for my
examples (1)-(5).

(1) Who are gathering in the park?

(2) Find out who are coming to our reunion. We need to make a list of
 the participants.

(3) They are demanding that the provincial government take action to
 find out who are responsible for the Tuesday disaster.

(4) Let us proceed to inquire who have been excluded from testifying
 as witnesses under the term "Indian".

(5) Is there an archive site for this mailing list where I might be
 able to find out what have been discussed in the past?

= Acceptability Ratings Table =
 Acceptable= 2 points 
 Sound odd but sort of OK= 1 
 Not acceptable/Terrible= 0

 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Total Comments (Abridged)

A (AmE) 0 0 1 1 0 2 (1) might be improved if 
 preceded by "The
 X's are gathering at the 
 store, the Y's are
 gathering under the bridge,..."

B (AmE) 0 0 0 2 0 2 Grew up in several places 
 in the US. I find
 only (4) to be grammatical. 
 (5) is really bad.

C (AmE) 0 0 2 0 0 2 (3) is OK. Southern 
 Americans might ask
 "Who all are..." Get a 
 reply from a Briton.

D (AmE) 0 0 0 0 0 0 Your examples sound much 
 more BrE than AmE.
 Impossible in America.

E (AmE) 0 0 0 0 0 0 I would reject (1)-(4) and 
 especially (5).

F (AmE) 0 0 0 0 0 0 56 years old. Grew up in 
 California, spent most
 of adult life in eastern 
 US. I would prefer
 singular or "Who all + plural".

G (AmE) 0 0 0 0 0 0 Your examples don't have 
 explicit plural
 indicators; the singular is 
 therefore the norm.

H (AmE) 0 0 0 0 0 0 None of your examples sound 
 natural to me.

I (AmE) (No judgements given) Try using a large database 
 of spoken and written
 English and find out how 
 language is really used.

J (BrE) 2 2 2 2 2 10 All your examples are good 

K (BrE) 2 2 2 2 0 8 For me (41-year old BrE 
 speaker) (1)-(4) are
 fine and (5) is very odd.

L (BrE) 2 2 2 2 0 8 Native speaker of English, 
 born in Scotland,
 lived there 26 years, have 
 lived in England for
 the last 11 years. All of 
 your examples except
 (5) sound fine to me.

M (BrE) 0 0 0 1 0 1 I speak standard British 
 English. I find (1)-(3)
 and (5) completely 
 unacceptable. (4) is slightly
 better probably due to the 
 plural 'witnesses'.

N (BrE) 0 0 0 0 0 0 I speak fairly standard 
 Irish/British English.
 (1)-(5) sound horrible and 

O (Aus) 2 2 2 2 0 8 The rules of agreement are 
 becoming more relaxed.


P (AmE) 0 0 0 1 0 1 American, teaches in New Zealand. 
 (4) sounds less awful than
 the others. Go to some electronic 
 corpora. That is more reliable
 than people's judgements.

~From looking at linguists A - I, we find that the acceptability
ratings are so low that we may safely surmise the singular is the norm
with AmE speakers.

Linguists J - P, however, present a formidable problem. J,K,L and O
rated the construction very high, while M,N and P gave a flat denial
to the same construction. They are all native speakers of English in
Britain and in countries where BrE more or less prevails. And they
are linguists!

I said this summary is 'tentative'. I would appreciate knowing how you
would view the apparently conflicting norms BrE speakers have to
choose when using the construction.

Hideo Hibino
Formerly Professor
The Department of English
Kinran College
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