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  1. #1
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Verbal Governance by Relatives

    I should like to take issue with those who, in a recent (now closed) thread, chose to defend the grammaticality of the construction *you, who has... as opposed to formally correct you, who have....

    The grounds for this assertion are, apparently, that relative pronoun 'who' is to be regarded as being an invariably third-person pronoun, and so, irrespective of the second-person 'you' that precedes it, it should clearly govern the verb in the third person singular - this same argument presumably being invoked to justify *I, who eats,..., *I, who is,..., *I, who knows....

    As if consideration of such horribly, manifestly ungrammatical locutions as those were not sufficient to make such users at least pause to examine their reasoning, they go on to claim that, despite its supposed invariability as to person, relative 'who' is nevertheless variable as to number, and consequently do not insist on *We/they, who eats,..., *We/they, who is..., or *We/they, who knows.... , but allow We/they, who eat,..., We/they, who are..., We/they, who know...., thereby, it would seem, arbitrarily deigning to confer on the antecedent pronoun when it is plural a bearing on the form of the verb that was mysteriously denied to it when singular!

    The root of this sadly commonplace misprision is not hard to see: confusion has arisen between the interrogative pronoun 'who' - an invariably 3rd-person form - and its relative namesake, leading to the assumption that, because we say e.g.

    Who has my keys?

    we must also say

    *You, who has my keys, must return them to me!

    rather than

    You, who have...

    for, in English as in all its Indo-European sibling languages, relative pronouns, having NO fixed person or number, govern the verb entirely according to the person and number of their antecedent.

    Thus, we get I, who am..., you, who are..., he, who is..., we, who are..., they, who are... (cf. Lat. ego, qui...sum..., Fr. moi, qui suis..., Germ. ich, der ich...bin...,** etc.), the correctness of we, who are... being shown clearly to be determined, not by any supposedly 'inbuilt' syntactic feature of 'who', but purely and simply by that of the 'we' that precedes it!

    I would ask anyone who remains unconvinced to consider for a moment the wording of the Lord's Prayer, which commences, you will recall,

    Our Father, who art in Heaven,
    Hallowed be Thy name,...

    'Our Father' here is, needless to say, a simple vocative, standing in apposition to the true antecedent of the relative pronoun, an ellipted 'thou'. In other words, the passage above actually means

    Our Father, Thou who art in Heaven,...


    Now, the 17th-century scholars responsible for the translation of the prayer may well have used forms that are now archaic, yet their grasp of English grammar was - I think you will find! - impeccable, and the grammatical principle at stake here (underlined above) remains as incontrovertible today as it was four hundred years ago.

    So, if you have ever paused in an idle moment to wonder why, despite the fact that the word 'is' has existed since long before the Reformation, we do not say

    *Our Father, who is in Heaven,...


    , now you know!

    (N.B. ** In German, first- and second-person antecedents of a relative pronoun are conventionally repeated before the verb.)
    Last edited by philo2009; 15-Mar-2010 at 09:43.

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Verbal Governance by Relatives

    Seventeenth century grammar and the grammar of today often differ, so I would disagree that they are the ultimate arbiters on questions of usage today, however impeccable their grasp of seventeenth century grammar.


    On the issue raised, I tend towards your position with the example, but I also think that the other side has a case to make and it is definitely true that people say things like you that's, though probably as much for euphony as anything else. (Edit: Actually, after sleeping on it, the more I run the sentence round my head, the more logical Bhaissahab's position seems- it's not clearcut)

    BTW The 1662 Book of Common Prayer doesn't use 'who', but 'Our Father, which art in heaven' : The Order for Evening Prayer > BCP, an interesting difference that possibly shows a different way of viewing the divine:


    Two versions:
    Our Father, who art in heaven
    hallowed be thy Name,
    thy kingdom come,
    thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread
    And forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those
    who trespass against us.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.
    For thine is the kingdom,
    and the power, and the glory,
    for ever and ever.
    Amen.

    1662 Book of Common Prayer
    Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done; in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. For ever and ever. Amen.

    (I have italicised the differences and emboldened some of the semi-colons)
    Last edited by Tdol; 16-Mar-2010 at 03:52. Reason: Added part in brackets

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Verbal Governance by Relatives

    General note:

    If this discussion is to go on, can we go easy on the stuff that shut the last one down

  4. #4
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Verbal Governance by Relatives

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    Seventeenth century grammar some of the semi-colons)
    Thank you for the correction of detail, but the difference between 'who' and 'which' is ultimately immaterial. Both are relative pronouns and the same syntactic principle applies: verbal governance is according to the antecedent.

    As for supposed grammatical differences between the English of today and that of the 17th century, they are actually few and far between, hence our designation of the latter as modern English.

    Regarding the existence of such expressions as (*)you who's/that's..., that is a fact with which I would not argue, any more than I would argue that expressions such as *between you and I exist. However, where they exist is the domain of informal usage. Regarding careful usage - about which most visitors to this site wish, I believe, to be informed - there can be little doubt that e.g.

    I, who have been teaching English for years, know how to construct a correct sentence.

    is well formed, while

    *I, who has been teaching English for years, know how to construct a correct sentence.

    (the absolutely inevitable consequence of the grammatical reasoning that approves *you, who has....)

    is not!

    Quite what 'logic' anyone presumes to see in a sentence such as the latter, frankly, escapes me.

    Perhaps another little sleep might be in order!
    Last edited by philo2009; 18-Mar-2010 at 08:36.

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