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Take this sentence I found:

"Too many services enabled on the firewall and switches leave an organization susceptible to compromised security."

I think "leaves" is appropriate here because the subject is not "services," but rather "the services being enabled" (so perhaps it would be better to add "being").

Am I correct, and is there a name for this kind of situation? I seem to see it a lot, where there's a seemingly plural subject but a singular verb because the subject is actually "the existence of [plural]." It's one of those things that I often can feel when constructing a sentence but have never seen a rule on it.

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    It functions as an autocausitive mediopassive voice. But it also has a complicated bit of conditional clause fronting. I'd unpack it as "an organization leaves itself susceptible to compromised security when it has too many services enabled on the firewall and switches."
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 17, 2022 at 5:02
  • The sentence can be understood in two ways. The first meaning is that when too many services are enabled, security is compromised. The second meaning is that too many of the services have security flaws and they compromise security when they are enabled.
    – Peter
    Jan 17, 2022 at 10:27
  • I could write either singular or plural depending on whether I am thinking - 1) (The existence of...) "too many services-enabled-on-the-firewall-and-switches leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security", or 2) "Too many services*(,) enabled on the firewall and switches(,) *leave an organization susceptible to compromised security." As written in the OP the verb, for me, has to be plural.
    – Dan
    Jan 17, 2022 at 13:02
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    Does this answer your question? notional subject-verb agreement other than for measurement, degree, etc //// In your case, 'Too many services enabled on the firewall and switches leave an organization susceptible' = 'Too many of those services enabled on the firewall and switches leave an organization susceptible' means something different from 'Having too many services enabled on the firewall and switches leaves an organization susceptible'. Jan 17, 2022 at 16:33
  • Are the services enabled on the switches? Or just on the firewall? Too many [services-enabled-on-the-firewall] and [switches] leave an organization susceptible...? Jan 17, 2022 at 17:50

2 Answers 2

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The original sentence is correct because the subject is "services", a plural noun, and is not implied to be "services being enabled".

"Too many servicesleave an organization susceptible to compromised security."

With that part of the sentence simplified, the subject becomes more clear. As for the phrase between the subject and verb, it is a past participle phrase: it begins with a past participle, a verb in past-tense acting as an adjective ("enabled"); is followed by a prepositional phrase ("on the firewall and switches"); and modifies the noun is proceeds. This all leads to the fact that the phrase between the subject and verb is a past participle phrase.

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  • But [having] too many services … leave[s] an organization susceptible to compromised security. As in An organization having too many services ... leaves itself susceptible to compromised security. To me, the writer was focusing attention on the enabling, and also implying this was under the control of the organization itself (otherwise, exposed would be used in stead of susceptible). So the entire context is inextricably tied to reflexive constructions.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 17, 2022 at 15:51
  • I suspect that plural subjects being proffered as singular concepts only work where the agency of the plural subjects has nothing to do with the effect on the patient noun. That is a given in the case of reflexive constructions.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 17, 2022 at 15:55
  • By removing "enabled on the firewall and switches", you show the structure. So simple really. That past participle adjective phrase describes the services. Could this be any simpler? I don't understand why people get their knickers in a twist around here...
    – Lambie
    Jan 17, 2022 at 16:47
  • @Lambie By removing "enabled on the firewall and switches", you have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. This is what is opening the door for this odd case of a verb not wanting to agree with it's surface subject. The sentence is focused on rendering agency, causality, and choice-making in a certain light. The rest of the sentence is built around that phrase.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 17, 2022 at 20:38
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Warning: Grammar terms vary.

Leaves is correct.

First let’s simplify for the sake of illustration:

Too many services enabled leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

Then add in the elliptical being:

Too many services being enabled leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

Note that we are leaving aside a relative clause reading — and therefore a plural (or even notionally singular) agreement — as it would be unnatural or would change the meaning: ?Too many services [that are enabled] leave an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

The subject of your sentence (too many services being enabled) is a gerund clause with its own subject (too many services). The gerund clause’s subject does not affect conjugation. The gerund clause itself (like all gerunds) is singular in number.

It might help to see the clause in the active voice. For example:

Engineers enabling too many services leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

Back to the passive:

Too many services being enabled [by engineers] leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

It is the passive construction, with its two verbs (being enabled), that allows us to omit being:

Too many services enabled [by engineers] leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

You might want to write your way around any confusion, using an active voice gerund construction without its own subject:

Enabling too many services leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security . . .

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  • Why don't you present the original sentence? It was fine, grammatically. And it's services leave, not leaves: "Too many services [enabled on the firewall and switches] leave an organization susceptible to compromised security."
    – Lambie
    Jan 17, 2022 at 20:09
  • @Lambie: It doesn’t matter whether the firewall and switches appear in the sentence; either way, your version requires a relative clause reading: Too many services [that are enabled on the firewall and switches] leave an organization susceptible to compromised security. Jan 17, 2022 at 20:17
  • "Too many services enabled leaves an organization susceptible to compromised security ." Corrected: Too many enabled services leave an organization susceptible to compromised security . You start your answer with leaves, with an s. And that is wrong for the OP's sentence.
    – Lambie
    Jan 17, 2022 at 20:28
  • @Lambie: Singular is correct. There is no relative clause — reduced or otherwise — in the original. To imagine one is to change the meaning. Too many services that are enabled on the firewall and switches leave an organization susceptible... can be compared in sense to Many services that are enabled on the firewall and switches leave an organization susceptible... Neither is what was meant. Jan 17, 2022 at 21:12
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    What you say is confusing. Very confusing: The verb is LEAVE: Too many services [enabled on the firewall and switches] leave an organization susceptible...It does not matter what you call the bit in parenthesis. the verb here will never be leaves.
    – Lambie
    Jan 17, 2022 at 21:20

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