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One of the things that makes him great is he brings it every night.

I'm pretty sure it should be that make him in the plural, because one of the things is referring to a lot of things and a lot of things should take a plural verb. But I always hear native speakers in America say it in the singular, so with an s.

Another example:

This is one of the responsibilities that comes with greatness and he understands that.

Native speakers always use the verb in the singular (here, comes) even though [I believe] it is grammatically incorrect to use the singular form of the verb there.

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    A decent usage dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, will usually discuss this exact topic. In my copy of MWCDEU, there is the section "one of those who", where that topic is discussed. – F.E. Mar 7 '15 at 7:07
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    You may want to have a look at a couple of the answers to this question here. The top answer and F.E.'s answer which contains some info from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language are both helpful. (Btw, if lot's of people do it, it's not ungrammatical!) :-) – Araucaria Mar 9 '15 at 11:42
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    @tchrist There's possibly one possible duplicate there, (it has bad answers). Three of the others are linked to closed posts, two of which were deemed off topic. Two of the others are about co-ordinated subjects. – Araucaria Mar 10 '15 at 1:17
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    @F.E. I think you should cut and paste your answer from the linked to question on ELL in my comment above as an answer here ... – Araucaria Mar 10 '15 at 1:19
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    @Araucaria Community wiki is vastly misused, imo. You could always borrow whatever info you wanted when you do your answer. – F.E. Mar 10 '15 at 18:47
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Some of the style guides that I have are categorical in claiming that the plural verb is correct in such constructions as:

One of the things that makes/make him great is he brings it every night.

Follet in Modern American Usage (p298) states:

These words (one of the [plural noun] who .. ) introduce the most widespread of all defiances of rudimentary grammar: the coupling of a plural subject with a singular verb.

Partridge in Usage and Abusage (p214) states:

The rule is that the formula, one of + plural noun, requires the ensuing verb to be plural.

The Right Word at the Right Time (p405) states:

The construction one of those who or one of the Xs that often presents the writer or speaker with a problem: does the verb that follows go into the singular or the plural? ... The answer is the plural: who or that refers not to one but to those or the Xs. (* See below)

Garner in Modern American Usage (p590) writes:

This construction requires a plural verb in the relative clause, not a singular one.

Other style guides offer a more nuanced approach. For example, the conclusion after a lengthy discussion of the construction in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (p690) is:

So the choice of a singular or plural verb ... is a matter of notional agreement: is one or those (Xs) to be the master? .... There is abundant evidence that one has controlled number in modern English sentences from Shakespeare to James Kilpatrick, and there is likewise abundant evidence that those has controlled number in other sentences. Addison was not troubled by using both constructions. You need not be more diffident than Addison.

Peters in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (p394) states:

For most writers the choice depends on whether you're thinking of a single case or a general principle. Usage commentators in the UK and the US have been inclined to say it should be the plural; and the Harper-Heritage usage panel voted heavily in its favor (78%). Yet Webster's English Usage (1989) found ample American evidence for the singular construction, and it's just as common as the plural in British data from the BNC. Writers using the singular take their cue from one, whereas plural users are responding to those [people] or the [things].

Finally, Steven Pinker, in his recent The Sense of Style (p250) writes:

For more than a thousand years the siren song of the singular one has overridden the syntactic demand of the plural those, and writer after writer has gone with the singular.

...

Usage guides today suggest that either the singular or plural is acceptable in this construction, depending on whether one or those looms larger in the writer's mind.


It is interesting that one of the sentences that The Right Word at the Right Time lists as ungrammatical is the following:

If you are one of those listeners who is alternately worried and puzzled by the state of modern English ... .

This sentence was written by pre-eminent British linguist Professor David Crystal.

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    +1. The 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., CGEL, also has a bit on this topic too. :) – F.E. Mar 7 '15 at 9:56
  • But doesn't English follow Dutch grammar? – F.E. Mar 7 '15 at 9:59
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    Thank you (+1) Shoe & @F.E. - you have provided great referential support for my original assertion which Cerberus assured me was incorrect. I could understand Cerberus' reasoning but was unable to backup my position. – user98990 Mar 7 '15 at 13:08
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    One of the things that annoy me is finding only 57 instances of that in Google Books, whereas one of the things that annoys me is finding an estimated 499 instances of the singular verb form. – FumbleFingers Mar 14 '15 at 2:41
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    @LittleEva I've done an answer below that has additional info from the CaGEL. – Araucaria Mar 15 '15 at 2:03
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  1. One of the things that makes him great is he brings it every night.
  2. One of the things that make him great is he brings it every night.

We might consider the case as being a difference between two types of meaning:

  1. There are several things. One which makes him great, is that he brings pizza every night.

  2. There are several things that make him great. One of these is that he brings pizza every night.

In this case it would be natural to expect sentence (1) to be a representation of (3) and (2) to be a representation of (4). However, that is just not what actually happens in the language in real life.

The fact of the matter is - that contrary to what has been said in several of the comments here - one often attracts singular verb agreement even when the semantic subject of the verb is clearly plural. In other words one regularly overrides the normal subject verb agreement. So although the meaning of the example sentence is clearly something like (4), sentence (1) should be expected as a common and perfectly grammatical version of this. [What's that? No! You can't rewrite the grammar to try and make it logical any more than you can rewrite the rules of physics if you don't like those!]

Here is what a vetted grammar source, based on real data, the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has to say about this:

. . . The relativized element in these examples is object. Where it is the subject that is relativized, the expectation would be that the number of the verb would be determined by the antecedent, giving a plural verb in Type I, and a singular in Type II. In practice, however, singular verbs are often found as alternants of plurals in Type I:

[22]

  • i. He's [one of those people who always want to have the last word]. -- (Type I )

  • ii. He's [one of those people who always wants to have the last word]. -- (Type I )

  • iii. He's [one of her colleagues who is always ready to criticize her]. -- (Type II )

Examples [i] and [iii] follow the ordinary rules, but [ii] involves a singular override. It can presumably be attributed to the salience within the whole structure of one and to the influence of the Type II structure (it is in effect a blend between Types I and II ). But it cannot be regarded as a semantically motivated override: semantically the relative clause modifies people. This singular override is most common when the relative clause follows those or those + noun.

Note Thanks to F.E. for help with this post.

Reference: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Huddleston & Pullum [et al], 2002.

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One of the things that make him great is that he brings it every night.

You are absolutely right. The exact same issue exists in Dutch. The relative clause that make him great defines the things, which would otherwise make no sense. So that refers back to the things and thus takes a plural verb, make.

It is an extremely common mistake, caused by confusion between the head of the noun group (one) and the verb of the main clause (is) on the one hand, and the object of the preposition with its relative clause (the things that make...) on the other.

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    @LittleEva: It cannot, because that make him great is a relative clause modifying things only, not one of the things as a whole. If it did, then of the things would be unspecified: what things, then? What are these things doing there? The things only make sense because the relative clause specifies what kind of things they are; otherwise they would be hanging in the air, so to speak. And the relative clause could not modify one alone syntactically, because there is an of in the way. – Cerberus Mar 7 '15 at 6:32
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    But usage does not agree with this unsupported answer. And David Crystal (see Shoe's answer) is an authority to respect. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '15 at 11:43
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    @LittleEva If you've heard it a lot, that's solid proof that it isn't ungrammatical. "Grammatical" is a description of what people actually do, not what somebody or other thinks is right. This answer is completely wrong because it doesn't describe the real rules of the language. It's an attempt to rationalise the situation. Shoe's answer below will give you solid grammar info from some vetted sources. – Araucaria Mar 7 '15 at 11:50
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    The last three grammar sources in Shoe's post are correct and based on observation of the common facts. So, in other words, yes, you were right the fist time ;-) – Araucaria Mar 7 '15 at 13:25
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    Your 'It is an extremely common mistake' is not a quibble about style. And neither is OP's 'Is this correct?' ... 'They always use the word with s even though it's grammatically incorrect' requesting advice on style. And even your claim that this is the style OP should choose is rendered improper by the data from Pinker and CGEL and the example from Crystal. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '15 at 21:09
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There is no correct version here. It altogether boils down to what you want the sentence to mean.

One of the things that makes him great is he brings it every night.

This means that the "One" is what makes him great, not all the "things" in general. For example, "One of these cookies that tastes awful is the one with the pink frosting on it."

One of the things that make him great is he brings it every night.

This means that out of all the "things" that make him great, you're talking about only "One" of them. An example of this would be: "One of these cars that are at the dealership has a flat tire."

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