I have a very quick question that makes me stuck when I read magazines in particular.

The issue is the usage of that. I am totally aware of its usage in some examples but in some cases, it makes me totally confuse and cannot figure out what it refers to it.

Some examples;

The problem that now arises seems to be quite serious. [relative]

The problem arises now.
The problem seems to be quite serious.
The problem that economics is getting worse seems to be quite serious.

The problem is economics is getting worse
The problem seems quite serious.

All good so far.

However, some examples making me confuse is as follows.

Dislike of Mr Erdogan is one of the few things that unites all Germany’s political families. (Excerpt from The Economist Magazine)

Here, as far as I know before that there is a noun called things, but after that it says unites not unite. (Things are plural and In my opinion, it should have been written unite given that it refers to things)

All I know is that "that" refers to something mentioned right before itself.

Am I mistaken? Can "that" refer to something I cannot figure? ( In this case, maybe it refers to "one of the things")

Could anyone shed some light on that issue making me bothered?

  • Newspapers make mistakes, too. Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 8:42
  • "One of the" always takes the singular.
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 8:57
  • Yes, that refers back to one of the things, why the doubt?
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 8:58
  • @michael.hor257k That's no "mistake" at all. See my comment above.
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 8:59
  • 1
    @Kris one of (the things that unite) vs (one of the things) that unites.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


The choice of singular for agreement with 'one' is grammatically possible here, but it needs an external context to define somehow 'the few things' mentioned (otherwise, the plural 'unite' would be more logical). For example:

There are some things one must take into account. [the sentence with '... one of the few things...'] Another thing is important for understanding why...

The actual previous context (3 sentences) describes some factors and events (= things), not greeted in Germany by non-Turkish population. Probably, that's enough to be referred to as another part of 'the few things' in that sentence, and the choice of 'that unites' makes sense.


  • So, all I understand is that "that" does not need to refer to directly right before itself, but can refer also to something mentioned before. In this case, things that unite vs. one of the things that unites... Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 13:49
  • The antecedent of a relative pronoun may be a noun, a pronoun, a phrase, or a clause. testden.com/toefl/english-grammar-for-students/… In our case we have a noun phrase 'one of the few things', immediately preceding the relative pronoun 'that'. Just one of 2 things (either that noun phrase or its last noun) agrees with the verb in number and can be the antecedent of 'that'. So, depending on type of agreement (singular or plural), and in both cases the antecedent is clear and immediately precedes 'that' (not sure how strict that rarely mentioned rule is).
    – Alex_ander
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 15:53
  • "X is one of the few things that unite..."
  • "Xs are 5 of the few things that unite..."
  • "X is the single thing that unites..."
  • "X is the very thing that unites..."

It's not the 'one' with which the 'unite/s' has to agree, but the 'things', as I hope my examples illustrate.

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