Author Topic: Using indefinite pronouns followed by an ‘of’-phrase  (Read 2993 times)

Joe Carillo

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Using indefinite pronouns followed by an ‘of’-phrase
« on: May 14, 2016, 11:08:10 AM »
Most of us learn early in English that when an indefinite pronoun is followed by an “of”-phrase, the countable noun that follows that phrase is always plural in form. The indefinite pronouns are, of course, “some,” “all,” “none,” “any,” and “most” (“SANAM” for short). Countable nouns are those that (a) can be quantified or counted, (b) can have singular and plural forms, and (c) can use “a,” “an,” “one,” and “many” as modifier, as in the case of the nouns “voter,” “winner,” and “loser” (http://tinyurl.com/juh4xdg). These are as opposed to noncount or mass nouns like “know-how,” “weather,” and “lavender,” which don’t exhibit any of those properties.

In keeping with the usage rule described above, we always use the plural of the countable noun that comes after the “of”-phrase, as in “Some of the vote counting machines have malfunctioned,” “All of the candidates have hoped for the best,” and “Most of the national candidates find the early unofficial election counts acceptable.” In contrast, we can’t use any of the SANAM to similarly quantify nouncount nouns; instead, we modify them to signify amount or degree, as in “A little know-how is needed to run a smartphone,” “A spate of good weather characterized election week,” and “A touch of lavender adds romance to that perfume.”

Regarding the usage of indefinite pronouns, Michael Galario, a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, proposed the following general rule a few days ago and asked for my comments:

“For SANAM followed by an ‘of’-phrase, the decision whether to use a singular or a plural verb depends on whether the ‘of’-phrase is followed by a noncount or a count noun. If the ‘of’-phrase is followed by a noncount noun, the verb to use is singular. If the ‘of’-phrase is followed by a count noun, the verb to use is plural. In writing sentences, one must see to it that if an ‘of’-phrase is followed by a count noun, the count noun should always be in its plural inflection.

“Follow-up question: Can we construe a count noun as notionally singular if the individual is considered in its entirety? I just saw this sentence in Google Books: ‘Most of the hospital remains open on weekends.’”

My reply to Mr. Galario:

By inspection, I don’t think your proposed usage generalization is appropriate. Look at the example I gave earlier for the indefinite pronoun “most”: “Most of the national candidates find the early unofficial election counts acceptable.” The noun “candidates” is countable and plural and the verb is necessarily in the plural form “find.”

This usage pattern also applies to the usage of “some,” “all,” and “none”: “Some of the national candidates find the early unofficial election counts acceptable.” “All of the national candidates [except one] find the early unofficial election counts acceptable.” The noun “candidates” is likewise plural for all three and the corresponding verbs are all plural in form.

In the case of “none,” however, the rule no longer applies in this hypothetical sentence: “None of the national candidates finds the early unofficial election counts acceptable.” Here, the noun “candidates” is plural but the verb “finds” is singular in form. And in the case of “any,” the syntax gets bad and untenable: “Any of the national candidates finds the early unofficial election counts and acceptable.”

What this case-to-case inspection is telling us is that it’s not advisable to make a general rule for the usage of SANAM with respect to whether the noun involved is countable or noncountable and whether the corresponding verb should be singular or plural in form. Indeed, the sentence you presented from Google Books, “Most of the hospital remains open on weekends,” is a good case in point. Depending on the intended sense, it would also be correct to construct it as “Most of the hospitals remain open on weekends.”

This essay first appeared in the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times in its May 14, 2016 print edition, © 2016 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2016, 08:35:34 AM by Joe Carillo »

Michael E. Galario

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Re: Using indefinite pronouns followed by an ‘of’-phrase
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2016, 12:03:02 PM »
Hi Joe,

Thanks for your reply.

Reason why I brought up the concern above is that most of the books and teachers of the English language stick to prescriptive grammar. In the actual classroom setting here in the Philippines, the idea of notional agreement is never discussed. Majority of the books published as well aren't that comprehensive. Only basic grammar is discussed.i haven't seen any progression of learning the language from elementary to college. My observation is that most of the books and teachers seem to discuss the topic for mastery and reenforcement. Only few, may be, are knowledgeable about it.

It's really great to know a person by the name Jose Carillo who is very knowledgeable of the Language. Thru you, things become comprehensible. Thank you. 
« Last Edit: May 14, 2016, 12:24:50 PM by Michael E. Galario »
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