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1)The corporeal, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual sides of human life have all been stirred by the hurricane the likes of which has never been seen in the history of the Earth. From The Vakhtangov Sourcebook by Andrei Malaev-Babel

2)They finally destroy him in a steel works, in a fight to the death the likes of which have seldom been seen on the screen. From Movies of the 90s by Jürgen Müller

"The likes of which" is both followed by have and has, and the result of Google book search is almost a tie.

What is the correct usage?

  • 1
    You seem to have answered your own question: "'The likes of which' is both followed by have and has, and the result of Google book search is almost a tie." What better answer could you hope for? – ruakh May 8 '16 at 7:46
  • @ruakh I thought there is only one correct answer, which now seems to be wrong according to the answers below... – Shim Shay May 8 '16 at 9:51
4

In the first example, the singular verb "has" is the incorrect conjugation. It disagrees in number with its plural subject, "likes." The second example is the correct one. This time, the plural subject, "likes," is satisfied in number by its verb, "have."

Reading through the responses to your question, I notice that there is confusion as to the identities of the subjects of the verbs "has" and "have." Respondents have offered "hurricane," "fight," or "death" as potential subjects. These are misconceptions. The subject in both sentences is "likes." I'll attempt to break it down.

1)The corporeal, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual sides of human life have all been stirred by the hurricane the likes of which has never been seen in the history of the Earth.

Take a look at this part of the sentence:

"the likes of which has never been seen in the history of the Earth."

This is what is called a genitive relative clause. It’s a relative clause because although it contains a subject (likes) and a verb (has been), its interpretation relies on information in the preceding clause—specifically, the noun "hurricane," to which the pronoun ("which") refers. If we wished to eliminate this dependency, we could rewrite the clause, replacing the pronoun with its target noun (plus article).

The likes of the hurricane has never been seen in the history of the Earth.

As you can see, "the likes of the hurricane" is what is meant by "the likes of which." All we have done so far is to convert a pronoun to a noun. I think that in this construction, it is easier to spot the subject of the clause. Are you beginning to notice the issue with how the verb has been conjugated? If not, don’t worry; there’s more to the explanation.

Let’s focus now on the genitive phrase "the likes of the hurricane." A genitive phrase is used to indicate a relationship between two nouns. In this particular construction, "hurricane" is made to possess "likes" by way of the proposition “of." You may be familiar with another construction of possession formed by adding an ‘s to the end of a noun. For our intents, the two constructions should be interchangeable here. We’ll momentarily convert to the ‘s construction of possession and see if it brings clarity to what is being referenced.

The hurricane’s likes has never been seen in the history of the Earth.

Now, what has never been seen in the history of the Earth? The hurricane? Or its likes (i.e. equals, counterparts)? Its likes have never been seen. If we'd wished to write about the hurricane itself, then we shouldn't have brought its likes into the picture.

So that I'm not accused of having crucially altered the construction of the sentence with this transformation, let's rewind a step and analyze from there.

The likes of the hurricane has never been seen in the history of the Earth.

Again, the likes have never been seen, but that begs the question: “The likes of what?” We cannot leave it at that, so we append descriptive information—“of the hurricane"—clarifying to what the likes belong. It is the likes "of the hurricane" to which we now refer, just as we would the truck of the mailman or the claws of the cat. In no known universe would it be correct to say "The claws of the cat is meowing." It could only be so in a universe the likes of which have never been seen—or perhaps in a universe the like of which has never been seen. Either will do.

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  • 1
    This is a very logical analysis of the grammar. Unfortunately, Google Ngrams shows that grammar isn't always logical. – Peter Shor Jan 2 '19 at 14:45
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    @Peter Shor There is actually a logical reason to write the phrase "the likes of which has." It is grammatically correct in some constructions, but not here. Take a look at this sentence: Fairies are the likes of which has only been found in dreams. Here we have "to be" verb "are" and subjects "fairies" and "likes." All the rest is descriptive. The entire phrase "of which has...dreams" qualifies "likes." In this example, "which" is the subject of "has," unlike in the hurricane example, in which the qualifier "of which" intervened between subject "likes" and verb "has." – SmallerThanLife Jan 3 '19 at 6:02
3

The original expression, as can be discerned from Google Ngrams, is the like of which has/have.

In this case, the plurality would have been governed by the original noun.

For example, Google Books yields

landscapes the like of which have never been seen in nature

and

a structure the like of which has never been found in any previous exhibition

At some point around 1950, some people started using likes instead of like. I can see arguments for three possibilities for the correct grammar:

  1. The traditional grammar: likes is colloquial. Use like in formal writing and have the plurality agree with the noun before like. This seems to be the OED's position (they label the likes of as colloq.) but I don't know when the entry was written.
    EDIT: upon further examination, responding to a comment it seems like most people use this rule for the plurality, but some people treat the like of as always singular.

  2. Use likes and have the plurality agree with the noun before likes. It appears that some people follow this grammar.

  3. Use likes, and always treat it as plural. It appears that some people follow this grammar.

Choose one of these three possibilities and be consistent (assuming that you use the expression more than once in any given piece of writing).

The only possibility I would definitely recommend avoiding is using a plural noun and likes with a singular verb. So don't say, for example:

*Storms the likes of which has never been seen before.

I don't see any examples of this possibility in Google Books.

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  • Could you expand on your statement "In this case, the plurality would have been governed by the original noun"? It's not completely obvious to me that "the like of which" would work like this, as opposed to behaving like "each of which". – herisson Jan 2 '19 at 4:52
  • @sumelic: Looking at "scenes, the like of which have/has", Google books gives around 10 hits for have and only 2 for has. I admit that has sounds wrong to me, which is why I thought it was obvious that "the like of which" would be governed by the original noun. But you're right, it isn't always. – Peter Shor Jan 2 '19 at 13:55
-1

Let us first get the meaningnof the word "like" in discussion here

Like

one that is similar : counterpart, equal, kind.

One of many that are similar to each other

Example - I have never seen the likes of you

The likes of

such people as : such things as 

such a one as and perhaps others similar to

the kind or sort of

Use with "has" and "have"

The boss said "he is a dilettante, the likes of which has no use in this firm."

The boss said "he was a dilettante, and the likes of which have no use in this firm."

So you see, it is and can be used anyway because it talks about someone or something that is equal to or similar to the person or thing mentioned.

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  • Thank you for your reply. I am still confused why in your first sentence the verb is singular. Since "likes" here is countable and plural, shouldn't we use plural verb? Is it that the "likes of which" can either refer to one or more than one that both singular and plural are acceptable? – Shim Shay May 8 '16 at 7:42
  • @ShimShay look at the second meaning in the block. It says "such a one..." and yes both are acceptable. – vickyace May 8 '16 at 7:48
-1

The construct the likes of which... is a modifier of the object of a prepositional phrase, so that the choice whether to use have or has is governed by the singular or plural nature of the object of the preposition. Both objects in the examples provided, the hurricane and death, are singular, so the verb chosen should reflect that, and should also be singular, or has. I'm my opinion the second citation should be has like the first one.

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-1

"The likes(like) of which" actually means " as such". Here, someone/ something is considered equal to or as important as the person or thing being mentioned.The comparison may be pejorative or eulogistic. What matters is the point of comparison and the Phrase is evenly balanced with a potential inclination either to one likened or to what is likened. The writer enjoys the unique privilege to stoop it to either of the directions.

In example no (1) the comparison refers back to hurricane whereas in example no (2) looks forward to fights depicted on the screen with the exception of one unique of its kind, and accordingly, singular or plural verbs are used.

Evidently, the Google hits suggest that it is not the agreement of the verb with the subject, rather than the agreement of the verb with the writer's intention that occupies the centre stage. We may call it 'poetic license'.

  • In the likeness of such hurricane(s)

  • In the likeness of such death(s)

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