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If you've ever seen Mythbusters, you know that all episodes contain at least one safety disclaimer. Having recently rewatched several episodes, I've noticed that some disclaimers have Adam saying, "Don't try this at home. We've got years of experience that keeps us safe."

That sounded a little funny to me, and I'm wondering whether that's grammatically correct. Shouldn't it be "years of experience that keep us safe"? Technically, it makes sense that it's the singular 'experience' that keeps the Mythbusters safe, but shouldn't the verb 'keep' be referring to the years of experience as a whole? I mean, it's the fact that they've got years, and not, say, minutes, that are keeping them safe. Right? Or is the sentence perfectly fine?


Update: I think part of the issue is the word 'experience' itself, which is singular regardless of how much there is of it. Words that come in discrete units (such as, say, 'blocks') are made plural when they're modified by multiple units ('5 blocks') — experience, however, remains singular. 'Much experience', 'experience', and 'no experience' are all singular.

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I don't think you can categorically identify either version as "incorrect".

As OP says, superficially "We've got years of experience that keep us safe" seems correct, since the subject of the verb keep is the plural noun phrase years of experience.

But I personally have no problem parsing it as experience that keeps us safe. The fact that this experience is qualified by years of seems to me no different to if it had been qualified by plenty of, or a great deal of. It's the singular experience, not the plural years, that helps.

In short, both seem "defensible" to me, but I find the singular verb form flows better.

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I agree with you that both are defensible, but I think that plenty of and a great deal of aren't great substitutes for years of, since years are units, and not just modifiers. 'Plenty of experience' is certainly followed by 'keeps', but it's harder (in my mind) to justify the same statement with 'years'. –  Itai Ferber May 11 '12 at 23:26
    
On the other hand, I realized that 'experience' is always singular, so it seems like there's no real right answer... –  Itai Ferber May 11 '12 at 23:32
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@Itai Ferber: Well you can't have it both ways. Either you find both acceptable or you don't. I think what you mean is your own "instinctive inner grammarian" agrees with me and the Mythbusters writer that singular sounds "better", but you can't justify it on logical/pedantic grounds. Language is sometimes just like that. –  FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 23:33
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People say “Ten years is gonna trump two years” or “Three weeks is long enough to wait.” Just because those subjects are formally plural doesn’t mean they can’t be construed to be singular concepts. –  tchrist May 12 '12 at 0:27

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