The sentence is:

"Since they were first invented, we have advanced, and designed stylish glasses for people whose vision need to be corrected."

I've been told that the verb needs to be "need" and also that it needs to be "needs".

Need: The argument is that the need refers to "people's need" and therefore by implication refers to a plural group, i.e. people need ... Here the antecedent is considered "people" ...

Needs: The argument is that the need refers to "vision", i.e. singular ... Here the antecedent is considered "vision" ...

Which one is grammatically correct?

  • 1
    They're both grammatically awful: badly written and full of mistakes. It's not even clear what they're trying to say. It's "needs" though, since "vision" is singular: each person has one "vision", regardless of how many people there are, and you're talking about each person individually. Sep 23 '16 at 15:08
  • 1
    @MaxWilliams I don't see any grammatical problems with them, myself. Isn't it the choice of lexis which makes it for the reader to make sense of the sentence, rather than the grammar? Sep 23 '16 at 15:15
  • @Araucaria ok, 1) since what was invented? Glasses? They've been doing this for hundreds of years? Or perhaps they mean "stylish glasses" - can we pin down when "stylish glasses" were invented, as opposed to unstylish ones? 2) "we have advanced, and designed stylish glasses..." - who has advanced? What do they mean by advanced? Do they actually mean to say that they have "advanced the glasses"? If so, what does that mean? See what I mean? It's a mess. Also who is "We" - a company? The human race? Sep 23 '16 at 15:25
  • Also, the last part is quite redundant, unless they've got two spectacle-designing divisions: one for people who need to correct their vision, and another for people who don't (and are presumably just posing with their window-glass spectacles). I can't even try to rewrite it as the intended meaning is not clear at all. Sep 23 '16 at 15:26
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    @MaxWilliams Yes, I agree. That's all lexis, not grammar though! ;-) Sep 23 '16 at 15:34

The choice of verb form depends on the (semantics of the) Subject of the verb. The verb need is occurring within a relative clause:

  • whose vision need(s) to be corrected

The word whose here is a pronoun in Determiner function. We can get a better idea of the meaning of the clause if we replace this pronoun with the common garden pronoun their, instead of using the relative pronoun whose:

  • Their vision needs to be corrected.

It is clear from the example above that the subject of the verb need is the noun phrase headed by the word vision. For this reason the verb needs to show third person singular agreement as shown.

  • 1
    And it's their "vision" which needs correcting, not "people". Though for all I know they may need correcting as well!
    – WS2
    Sep 23 '16 at 15:34
  • This was my 1st post. Surprised by the responses; especially the more "forceful" ones. Thank you @Araucaria for your answer - It helped. Perhaps I should have provided a bit more background to the sentence (@MaxWilliams): confusion arose. The sentence is part of an article regarding basic background to the "development of glasses/spectacles". The article was written for an EFL audience of "advanced-beginner" students in Taiwan. Was it poorly written? I don't think it's my place to make that call. I was asked to help decide the correct position regarding the use of "need(s)".
    – felongtw
    Sep 25 '16 at 13:01
  • @felongtw Your question was fine. Please keep asking more questions. I look forward to them! :-) Sep 25 '16 at 13:41
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    @Araucaria - thank you. Teaching in Taiwan, we are often frustrated by seemingly "unwilling" students to question or pose questions. I think we often forget that "impatience" can be the reason those students are hesitant to do just that. Have a great day. :-)
    – felongtw
    Sep 26 '16 at 3:34

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