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I'm working my way through The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, and I came across a difficulty.

In one of the quizzes, the book asks you to identify the subjects and verbs in sentences, and correct disagreements where necessary. Here is one such sentence:

Her attitude is one of the things that's different.

I incorrectly viewed one as a subject in the sentence above, which caused me to miss that things is actually the subject and so the verb should be conjugated are, and the sentence constructed thus:

Her attitude is one of the things that are different.

With me? I'm not 100% clear here why things is the subject and not one, but okay. I understand close enough.

Then I came to this explanation in the section on pronouns. The rule is copied to give context to the example and its explication.

Rule 5. The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural depending on the subject. If the subject is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.

Example: He is the only one of those men who is always on time. The word who refers to one. Therefore, use the singular verb is.

Here is where my confusion truly enters the picture. If who as a pronoun is referring to one in this sentence, then one is the subject (as is He). If one is the subject in this sentence, why is it not the subject in the previous sentence?

Thank you for your help! Let me know if I need to clarify my question.

  • Well, there's two verbs. Did the book say the subject was "things"? Because that would be an unusual analysis of the sentence as a whole. – Azor Ahai Sep 7 '18 at 0:05
  • Yes, there are two verbs. I was just focusing on the one subject-verb agreement I was confused about. And yeah, the book said the subject was things. – RogueModron Sep 7 '18 at 0:09
  • There are a number of examples on this site of instances where using the word 'one' causes a verb to be singular. I think this is one of those cases. I would say ' ... one of the things that is different' is actually correct, colloquially, myself. – Nigel J Sep 7 '18 at 0:54
  • @NigelJ It's acceptable for me too, but it's likely an example of an attraction error (a type of cognitive process). – Azor Ahai Sep 7 '18 at 2:26
  • @AzorAhai Yes, indeed. It is a matter of concept. But I would not call it an 'error'. Language is what we choose it to be. And if that is what we do, then that is what is right. – Nigel J Sep 7 '18 at 10:56
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This isn't a question of quantity, necessarily, but rather one of adjunct phrases. Let's take your two sentences, with some phrase boundaries.

Her attitude is [[one] [of the things that are different]].

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He is [[the only one [of those men]] who is always on time].

In the second example, he is the only one who is always on time out of a set of men (the rest of whom are always late). Therefore, the verb is singular to agree with "only one."

This contrasts with your first example, where "her attitude" is one of the set of things that are different.

In the first sentence, "to be" is embedded within the prepositional phrase "of the things that are different," whereas in the second, "to be" is not part of the prepositional phrase "of those men."

For example, you could say:

Her attitude is one of the things that are different about her, and I like it.

You don't say "them" like you would in "Her earrings are one of the things that are different about her and I like them."

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    Let me know if I can clarify any of the linguistic terminology. – Azor Ahai Sep 7 '18 at 0:26
  • Yes! Awesome. I see it. For example, if I were to change the meaning of the second sentence, it might say this: "He is one of those men who are always on time." He is of the class of men who are on time. Her attitude is of the class of things that are different. Makes sense now! I look forward to learning more about adjunct phrases. – RogueModron Sep 7 '18 at 0:29
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    @rogue Yep! Exactly – Azor Ahai Sep 7 '18 at 0:31

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