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... the sort of justifications it does or does not get differ greatly.

In the above sentence, the verb differ agrees with a plural. Is the subject sort or justifications? And, if sort, why is that not with an s?

Can anyone please explain this verb agreement? It sounds correct, but I seek an explanation of the subject, ideally providing grammatical terms.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Helmar, Mitch, Scott, curiousdannii Sep 29 '16 at 5:31

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  • 1
    If you're actually talking about more than one sort of justification (which it seems you are, since one sort of justification cannot differ with its own self) then maybe say sorts of justifications. "This sort of justification is not rational" vs "the sorts of justifications we receive differ" ... by the way, even setting this issue aside, the sentence as worded is extremely awkward. – developerwjk Sep 28 '16 at 23:03
  • @developerwjk You raise an interesting point with sort(s) of. Clearly we can say the sort of questions you ask baffle me. (with "sort" singular, and "questions" plural). But could you say The sort of questions you ask differ greatly? The latter doesn't appear to make sense, since if the questions differ, then they cannot be of the same sort. In the same way, if the justifications "differ", they cannot be of a singular "sort". Is that what you are saying? – WS2 Sep 29 '16 at 0:04

The subject is the sort, which is singular, and singular subjects usually take singular verbs. Here we encounter the plural verb differ, which sounds correct because of the attraction of the nearby plural object justifications. It also seems correct semantically because it's the justifications that differ among themselves. To use the singular verb differs would require the sense that there be two or more sorts (or collections), something along the lines of

... the sort of justifications it does or does not get differs greatly from the other sort of justifications.

And there's no indication that the writer meant anything of the sort (so to speak). What the sentence means is

... the justifications of the sort differ greatly.

The problem with this wording is that there's no good place for the relative clause "[that] it does or does not get". So the writer went with the wording you quote. It is not unheard of, especially in British English, to have a singular collective noun take a plural verb if the members of the collective act separately. Thus you may encounter

Parliament have rejected the Corn Bill.

where Parliament is a single collective noun with a plural verb. Here, each member of Parliament presumably voted individually and separately his or her conscience on the matter.

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