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I was proofreading today and came to a weird situation. Maybe I've stared at it too long and I just need to rest my brain. Here was the sentence:

"You can rest assured that the question is resolved by a member of our Legal Team, who always try to solve any issues quickly and concisely."

'Legal Team' is the name of the team and they wanted it capitalized. Whatever.

For the use case here, would you say 'who always try' or 'who always tries'?

The who is referring to the member, since the 'Legal Team' is the subject of the preposition. I mentioned that it should be 'who always tries', but my co-worker says it's 'try.' I can't really explain to him why I feel like it's tries in an English manner, I just know something's up with it.

I would assume it's because 'who' can be singular or plural that leads to the confusion, and the recent use of the word 'team' in 'Legal Team' might mislead folks to think the who is referring to the 'Legal Team' rather than the single member doing the solving. In that case, it might be better to rewrite it to:

"You can rest assured that the question is resolved by a member of our Legal Team, who will try to solve any issues quickly and concisely."

since the anonymous single member would probably not be eligible for something as broad as 'who always tries.'

I think I'm thinking too much on this. Any ideas?

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    Three thoughts: (1) "Team" can take a singular verb or a plural; search prior questions for "collective nouns" and you'll find more on that. (2) It is indeed ambiguous whether "who" refers to "member" or "team," but maybe it doesn't matter to the meaning, which is (in either case) that among all of those on the team, there will always be an attempt to solve the issue. (3) As suggested at the end of your question "always try to solve any issues" sounds weaker than "will try," and I prefer your "will try" for that reason. – vstrong Oct 28 '15 at 19:56
  • I suppose that's what I'm getting at, then - grammatically, (pedantically, I suppose) is their ambiguity? That is to say, since 'of the Executive Team' is the preposition, does that exclude 'team' from being the subject the 'who' was referring to in a purely syntactical sense? – Isaac Askew Oct 28 '15 at 20:21
  • If the antecedent of ’who’ is ‘a member’, then ‘who’ is singular and must have a singular verb. – Toothrot Oct 28 '15 at 20:37
  • Yeah, I get that - but the issue was that there was claim that it was ambiguous what the antecedent was - 'member' or 'team'. I'm trying to exclude, through rule, 'team' from being considered as the antecedent in order to convince my coworker that no ambiguity exists when approaching this sentence purely from a grammatical standpoint. – Isaac Askew Oct 28 '15 at 20:47
  • I don't think the prepositional phrase eliminates the ambiguity. Consider "she is a member of the US Team who won the gold medal . . ." The issue is even more obvious there (at least to me). At least part of the issue is the proximity of "Legal Team" to "who." (You could try "resolved by a Legal Team member, who will try . . . ") I'd add that if the co-worker with reasonably English-language knowledge thinks it's ambiguous, it's ambiguous. But as I mentioned in the first comment, in this case maybe it doesn't matter? – vstrong Oct 28 '15 at 21:39
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No, it's not your brain - this is definitely unclear. This is like one of those sentences like

Lying on the beach, we saw a whale.

Of course it's not clear which was lying on the beach, 'we' or the whale. Sentences that provide unclear self-references are generally best fixed by re-wording. In your case, it would be clearer to write:

You can rest assured that the question is resolved by our Legal Team, whose members will try to solve any issues quickly and concisely.

Or leave out members altogether, since it is implied a Team is made up of members:

You can rest assured that the question will be resolved by our Legal Team, who address issues quickly and concisely.

Here I replaced solve with address, since a solution is the stated objective in the previous resolved, and so sounds repetitive.
Also, since the purpose of the statement seems to be to instill confidence, I would also lose 'try to solve any issues' as that sounds wishy-washy, like, "we'll do our best.." How can I 'rest assured' if you're just going to try?

  • The example "Lying on the beach, we saw a whale" is not a good one. A whale doesn't lie on the beach unless it is dead or soon-to-be dead. And the subject of the participle phrase is omitted because it is the same subject of the independent clause. I agree with your suggestion. – user140086 Oct 28 '15 at 20:01
  • Why the whale is there, or in what state of health it's in, could not be farther from the point. We've all seen newsreels of beached whales. The point was to show an object in a statement to which there is an unclear reference. Whether the whale in my example is thriving or 3 weeks passed still does not clarify to the reader who is lying on the beach. – DJ Far Oct 28 '15 at 20:09
  • @DJFar Hmm. What kind of whale is it? – deadrat Oct 29 '15 at 1:07
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It should be "try", because of the intended sense. "Tries" would also be grammatical, but is not appropriate here. The non-restrictive relative clause is next to the noun phrase that "who" refers to, and there are two choices here: [NP a member of [NP our legal team ] ]. Since the NP "our legal team" is embedded within the NP "a member of our legal team", putting the relative clause after either NP also puts it after the other.

If there were a specific member of the legal team who would be assigned a case of this sort, "who" could refer to him, and then the verb in the relative clause should be "tries". But that is not what is meant here. There is no specific individual who would be assigned to a given case -- it could be any of several people. So that rules out this interpretation.

Thus "who" refers to "our legal team". But that is a collective reference, and it could take either singular or plural agreement. So, we still don't know whether it should be "tries" or "try". Is the meaning that the trying is done by the team as a whole, who will all work together to solve issues? Plainly not. One member of the team will be assigned; it is not the whole team that will be assigned to any one case. So maybe it should be "tries".

But it can't be "tries", because that would imply that one certain member of the Legal Team always tries to solve issues, while the others on the team do not necessarily do that.

So it has to be "try", with plural agreement, and the sense of the sentence is every individual on the team always tries to solve issues, so that this pertains to the team as a whole, rather than some one person on the team.

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@Isaac Askew - In your example, the words "a member" constitutes singular subject; hence, should be followed with plural verb. In this case, the correct way should be "a member of legal team, who always tries to solve any issues quickly and concisely." However, I'd like to say that since we are not referring to any specific individual from the team, the statement can be changed to ""You can rest assured that the question is resolved by members of our Legal Team, who always try to solve any issues quickly and concisely."

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