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I read a related question on this topic, the title of which bears great similarity. But I was unable to find an answer in that question, and it seems the example given was dissimilar.

Here is an example that recently came up in my life. I was writing to someone about the French philosopher Derrida, and said,

I like his observation that the meaning of words come from synchrony and diachrony.

I know that the word "come" should be "comes", as the subject is singular. But I was hesitant to end this word with an "s", because its antecedent, "words", also ends with an "s".

I'm not sure if my hesitance is justifiable. When a person speaks this sentence, they can introduce a pause between "words" and "comes" so it does not sound awkward. But when a person reads this sentence, they are more likely to stumble on the consecutive s's.

Would the alteration that I made be considered good practice?

I am thinking of vague analogies to the attraction of relative pronouns in Ancient Greek. The analogy being that "come" is attracted to its antecedent, much like relative pronouns were attracted to the case of their antecedent.

  • A better alteration might be to pluralize meaning, so that come is the correct conjugation: I like his observation that the meanings of words come from synchrony and diachrony. – J.R. Oct 24 '17 at 19:44
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    @J.R. That's a good idea. Although, I must object that "meaning" and "meanings" might have different meanings. – ktm5124 Oct 24 '17 at 19:47
  • I'll admit this trick may not work every time. However, multiple words have multiple meanings, so, in this case, I think the sentence remains syntactically correct and the meaning doesn't change that much. – J.R. Oct 24 '17 at 20:09
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    There's no rule about consecutive word endings needing to be different. "His glass is empty." Is perfectly fine and has 3 in a row. I'm sure there's an adjective ending in 's' I could use in place of empty but all I could think of was cross which doesn't quite work. – Jim Oct 24 '17 at 20:35
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    I do believe some native speakers may eschew saying of words comes, but would probably write of words comes. – AmE speaker Oct 25 '17 at 0:35
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This particular rule of matching the conjugation of the verb with the declension of the noun, particularly when we're talking about groups, can trip up native English speakers, too. To further confuse issues, it is sometimes allowable for group nouns or zero counts to be matched with either the singular or plural form of a verb.

The team of scientists is researching a cure for cancer.

In this sentence, "is researching" matches the singular "team".

The team of scientists are researching a cure for cancer.

This sentence uses an allowance afforded by the fact that "team" represents more than one, so the verb can be conjugated as plural.

None of the scientists are researching a cure for cancer.

Similarly, when the count is zero, the verb can be plural or singular.

None of the scientists is researching a cure for cancer.

In your sentence above, however,

I like his observation that the meaning of words come from synchrony and diachrony.

the verb "come" should agree with the noun "meaning". You have two options.

I like his observation that the meaning of words comes from synchrony and diachrony.

This wouldn't trip up too many native English speakers; "comes" agrees with "meaning". If you want to avoid two consecutive words ending with "s"...

I like his observation that the meanings of words come from synchrony and diachrony.

or...

I like his observation about the meaning of words: they come from synchrony and diachrony.

You can break the sentence up, perhaps even insert a quote.

  • Ah, so there is really no allowance for my alteration, then. Thanks for your good answer. – ktm5124 Oct 24 '17 at 20:38

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