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I was interested in the following sentence which appeared in a news article titled "F.A. Gives Sir Alex the Hair-Dryer Treatment" by Jeffrey Marcus in The New York Times (November 12, 2009).

Having said that, it was made clear to Sir Alex that with such stature comes increased responsibilities. [emphasize mine]

Can someone clarify if the journalist wrongly uses the word "comes", as I think it is?

I would reword "comes" with "come" because, at second look, it seems that the subject of the verb is the plural word "responsibilities", not "stature"; but I'm not quite sure if the journalist a banal typo made or if there is something into the structure of the sentence that induced him to wrong.

Or, am I wrong (not the journalist)?

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4 Answers 4

While the sentence the journalist wrote would not actually be noticed by most English speakers as incorrect, you're technically right: the way it's written, the plural noun "responsibilities" is the subject of the verb "come", so its subject-verb case agreement fails. Any of these would be correct:

... with such stature come increased responsibilities.

... with such stature comes increased responsibility.

... such stature comes with increased responsibilities.

Note that the third is a semantically different sentence where "stature" is the subject of "come", not "responsibilities".

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I think the argument can still be made that the intent is clear, but I agree that the sentence is incorrectly written. "With such stature come increased responsibilities" sounds very wrong to my native English-speaking ear, but that's likely due to proximity of "come" and "stature" and the idiomatic way that modifiers are often applied. Good answer! –  NateDSaint Jun 11 '12 at 19:35
    
Stellar answer. Thank you chaos. Obviously +1 –  Elberich Schneider Jun 11 '12 at 19:37
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@NateDSaint: Yeah, I agree that the grammatically correct phrasing for the structure given is actually rather awkward, mostly because we're hearing a plural-case verb without a plural subject yet having occurred. Thanks! –  chaos Jun 11 '12 at 19:40
    
@chaos: That's why I think there's only a weak case for saying come is "correct", and comes is therefore "wrong". Sometimes, what sounds better on a casual hearing is at least no worse than the "strictly correct" version. –  FumbleFingers Jun 11 '12 at 21:41
    
Such sentences pop up every now and then – ones that don't "sound" correct when said correctly, and thus prompt a mental double-take. "The data are corrupted" is one example; "With such stature come increased responsibilities" is another. –  J.R. Jun 12 '12 at 2:07

What we have here is a clause containing an intransitive verb (come) and a prepositional phrase that has been fronted to give it emphasis. The subject and the verb have been inverted. Such a construction is not uncommon in formal or literary writing. Here are more random samples from Google:

  • After the storm come tests of faith
  • From the kitchen come trays laden with meat
  • Around the corner come two lads on bicycles
  • With increased responsibility come greater freedoms
  • With increased stature come greater expectations for equality

It is clear from the above examples that the verb is still governed by the subject, even though the subject takes up an uncommon position. On this basis you are probably right in thinking that the journalist has made simple mistake. However, English is full of examples where syntax is overriden by semantic considerations. (A simple example would be: The committee have decided ..).

It could be in this case, therefore, that the writer overrides increased responsibilities as the subject in favour of the phrase with increased stature, using the singular verb form accordingly.

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This is a very good point, and I think I agree with your assertion, (not simply because it agrees with my original assessment) but because you have backed it up with common usage to explain your case. –  NateDSaint Jun 11 '12 at 20:15

The journalist has the correct usage. The construction "with such stature comes increased responsibilities" is a re-arrangement of "such stature comes with increased responsibilities", and "comes" takes its form from the its usage in the second construction.

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+1: I'm not sure I'd call the usage "correct", but here are plenty more instances of "comes increased responsibilities". Those people who (silently) downvote are just being pedantic. –  FumbleFingers Jun 11 '12 at 21:36

From my understanding of the root of the term, I think it is technically correct. Typically, the idiom is "comes with," for example:

The number seven burger comes with fries.

I think the journalist is alluding to the common quote "with great power comes great responsibility," which is often attributed to Voltaire, FDR, Stan Lee himself (in Spider-man form Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962). http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/List_of_misquotations

In this case, the idiom can be simplified to avoid a preposition at the beginning of the sentence or phrase, in your case "such stature comes with increased responsibilities," but I think both are grammatically acceptable. I think the role of prepositions at the beginning and end of sentence and phrases has been decried by pedantic grammarian grade-school teachers, but ultimately I think it's a preference. The literature shows acceptable usage of both.

As far as the subject/verb agreement, I think that comes refers back to stature, which is singular, and as such should be acceptable.

EDIT:

This question was edited after my initial answer, so I'll edit the answer as well.

In my example, I meant to explain that when you re-organize the words, the organization becomes more clear. What is coming with what? To simplify your sentence, would it make more sense to say that "Stature comes with increased responsibilities" or "Responsibilities come with increased stature." Logic tells me that the first fits the intent, as the responsibility is not causing the increase in stature: rather the implication is that stature will elicit increased responsibilities. In this case, it becomes more clear to me that the subject is in fact "stature," and "with responsibilities" acts as a prepositional phrase to modify the verb "comes."

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You haven't reorganized the sentence, you've rewritten it. A reorganization that preserves antecedents would be "... increased responsibilities comes with such stature", which clearly illustrates what's wrong with the thing. –  chaos Jun 11 '12 at 19:02
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Since I'm who asked the question, obviously I do not vote down your answer; but I'm not so sure that your logic justification agree with grammatical rules. –  Elberich Schneider Jun 11 '12 at 19:04
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@chaos; there's nothing wrong with Such stature comes with increased responsibilities; only the journalist can say whether that's actually what he meant. –  TimLymington Jun 11 '12 at 19:16
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@TimLymington: Um, no. In the sentence the journalist actually wrote, the responsibilities are the subject of the verb "come". The correctness of related sentences with different subject-verb relations isn't relevant. –  chaos Jun 11 '12 at 19:18
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@chaios: I'm sorry I wasn't clear enough. The sentence I suggested is grammatical, does require comes, and can properly be expressed as in the original question. Some objections can properly be made, but to say it's irrelevant argues that you haven't understood what I was trying to say. –  TimLymington Jun 11 '12 at 21:30

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