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I am currently working on a letter and I wrote a sentence similar to this:

I created my own goals, which, together with my studies in mathematics, has given me an excellent foundation for this program.

I believe this is a correct sentence, but my friend claims it has a plural subject. I believe that "my own goals" constitutes a singular set, so "has" is correct. My friend argues two things: "my own goals" is plural and "together with…" makes a compound subject. I disagree on the first because I am considering the whole, not the parts, and I disagree with the latter because it is not part of the subject. It is a dependent clause just to point out the fact that this isn't the only reason I have an excellent foundation for the program. While I believe one could treat "my own goals" as a plural group rather than a singular set, I think the compound subject argument is completely false. I thought about replacing "together" with "along" because it may be less likely to cause people to think this is a compound subject.

Which is correct? Which do you think is better and why?

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    The word goals is plural. So is the word studies. Each of them is plural, and if you put them together, you still get a plural. Goals and studies isn't something like bacon and eggs, which can be treated as a singular because it's a common breakfaszt. Mar 26, 2017 at 12:59
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    After reading your comment, I realized that if I were to say something like, "My goals is…," that would definitely be wrong. So that sounds like a VERY good argument. This made me google something and I found this: getitwriteonline.com/archive/110805verbsagreerelpro.htm
    – user227125
    Mar 26, 2017 at 13:05
  • This is especially strange since these examples look obvious to me, especially when using who. It said that certain readers think which is always singular. Maybe I picked that up from my regional dialect because it has a lot of these strange rule changes.
    – user227125
    Mar 26, 2017 at 13:06
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    The choice of singular or plural verb depends on what exactly you mean. If it's the fact that you created your own goals that gives you the advantage, use singular. If it's the goals themselves that do this (and would have still done so even if someone else had assigned you those goals), use plural. Mar 26, 2017 at 13:23
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    @PeterShor The OP's antecedent for which is presumably the clause "I created my own goals" and not the word goals firstly because goals don't give you an excellent foundation, though the experience of creating them may and secondly, the OP wouldn't have chosen has instead of have!! [I strongly suspect, anyway]. Mar 27, 2017 at 14:13

2 Answers 2

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I created my own goals, which, together with my studies in mathematics, has given me an excellent foundation for this program.

The phrase "together with my studies in mathematics" is parenthetical (we could put it in brackets, for example). It is not grammatically integrated into the sentence. It is not, therefore, part of the subject of the verb "has".

The verb "has" is the main verb in the relative clause "which has given me an excellent foundation for this program". We interpret the Subject of this clause, the word "which", through its antecedent. Its antcedent, however, is not the plural phrase "my own goals". Rather, it is the clause "I created my own goals". Clauses take singular verb agreement in English. Consider:

  • He licks his fingers, which really anoys me.

It is not the fingers which annoy the speaker, it is the whole situation that "He licks his fingers".

The Original Poster is correct, and his critic wrong. The verb has is singular because the clause "I created my own goals" is the antecedent for the Subject, not the plural noun phrase "my own goals".

It is the experience of creating his own goals which has provided the Original Poster with a good foundation for his program - not the goals themselves.

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The word 'goals' is, of course, plural. But if you think of it as a single idea, you can use it as a singular subject in sentences. When two subject are joined by "with", "along with", "together with" "as well as" etc. and separated by commas, the verb should agree with the first subject.

Alice, as well as Paula, was shocked by the news.

The ship, with its crew, was lost.

" Nouns joined by other linking words or quasi-coordinators (e.g. accompanied by, as well as, not to mention, together with, etc.) are followed by a singular verb if the first noun or noun phrase is singular." ( New Fowler, p. 35.)

"A very profitable company such as British Telecom, along with many other companies in the UK, is not prepared to pay a reasonable amount". ( New Fowler, p. 35.)

( But with longer singular subjects connected by as well as, a plural verb is more likely especially if commas are not used).

His appearance as well as his strange way of talking make me suspicious.

References: 1- Michael Swan's PEU, Chapter 77.3, P76

2- www.grammar.com

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  • "Goals" won't take singular verb agreement in standard English. And it definitely wouldn't in this case - if the goals in the example was the antecedent for which. However, the antecedent for which is not goals! Mar 27, 2017 at 14:18
  • What is the antecedent of 'which'? Mar 27, 2017 at 14:35
  • Then think of the sentence removing the parenthetical parts: "I created my own goals has given me an excellent foundation for this program", is it making sense? Mar 27, 2017 at 15:23
  • You removed the "which." "I created my own goals, which has given me an excellent foundation for this program" makes sense. Another way of expressing this is "The fact that I created my own goals has given me an excellent foundation for this program."
    – herisson
    Mar 29, 2017 at 15:32

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