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I'm wondering which of the following is correct:

Guns are an invention that have had an enormous impact on African history.


Guns are an invention that has had an enormous impact on African history.

These sentences aren't actually being used in my report, but I decided to create them to save you from the grammatical horror of my actual run-on sentences.

Anyway, I know "have" is used for plural subjects and "has" is used for singular subjects (wrong term, I'm sure), but I'm unsure as to whether the subject is the plural "guns" or the singular "invention." Microsoft Word is suggesting the latter sentence. Is that correct?

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Rewrite to one of: "The gun is an invention that has had..." or "The invention of the gun has had...". I like the second one. –  Jim Aug 19 '12 at 19:11
Yes Jim. The correct answer, if we decide to go with strict, prescriptive rules of concord, is neither is correct. Guns are an invention is where the problem lies. There are other situations where concord rules become much more difficult to maintain. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 19 '12 at 19:33

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The subject of the verb is an invention - which is singular, so the verb-form should be too.

Here are a few written instances of "are an invention that has". Note that Google Books contains no examples of "are an invention that have".

Don't bother even thinking about what Microsoft Word recommends or queries - at best it might be useful for flagging up glaring typos/etc. Beyond that, it has no credibility.

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Why the downvote? –  FumbleFingers Aug 19 '12 at 19:29
OP's wording of the sentence inclines more toward have as it looks like it refers to guns not invention. If we drop the explanatory are an invention, it clearly refers to guns. Not saying it should be have but I think it would be better to reword the sentence. What do you think? –  Noah Aug 19 '12 at 19:29
Plus, I didn't down vote. –  Noah Aug 19 '12 at 19:30
I have upvoted you. –  Jim Aug 19 '12 at 19:33
@Noah: exactly — if we drop "an invention that", then the verb refers to guns. However, in the sentence at hand, we do not drop "an invention that". By your logic, every sentence in English is ungrammatical, because if we drop a few words we get gibberish. Besides, rewording is chickening out. It is the opposite of answering. We are here to answer questions, not to dodge them. –  RegDwigнt Aug 19 '12 at 20:00

As the sentence starts, it seems like "guns" is the subject, but as the sentence progresses and comes to "an invention that", "an invention" becomes the subject, so it should be has. Moreover, the meaning of the sentence also refers to the invention of the guns, which has had an enormous impact.

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