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I was reading a poem in which one of the lines was:

“that you are, you who want to grasp the heart of things.”

When I read it I thought it was a typo. Can the pronoun “you” be plural here? And if so would using the “you who want” instead of “ you who wants” tense be grammatically correct? Kind of like how we say “you are” instead of singular “you is”. In the context of the poem, it feels like it could be directed towards the human race as a whole, so the wording could be an artistic choice instead of a mistake. Maybe it’s just a typo and I’m thinking too much into this oops.

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  • Poems, especially older poems and those written in an elevated register, often don't follow the usual rules of grammar and writing. So you shouldn't necessarily use this as a guide for your spoken or written English. But see the answer below for more details on the verb.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 27 at 10:43

1 Answer 1

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In this context, I think the word "want" is used because the author is treating the relative pronoun "who" as a second-person pronoun, the same as its antecedent "you". If I'm right, then "want" is not an explicitly plural form here: rather, it doesn't distinguish between singular or plural, just like you would say "you want..." (never *"you wants") regardless of whether you were speaking to one person or many.

The relative pronoun who sometimes takes the same type of person agreement as its antecedent, and sometimes takes third-person agreement. It's a little complicated to say when one vs. the other is more common: in general, either can be correct, but sometimes one or the other sounds more natural.

Questions on this:

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  • I agree with the response. Compare the original text to a version replacing "you" with "I." You could naturally get: "“that I am, I who am a grasper of the heart of things.” The relative pronoun most typically takes the same agreement as its antecedent. Similarly, the traditional and archaic version of the Christian Lord's Prayer starts: "Our Father, who art in heaven," which is explicitly agreement with the implied second person singular of the vocative address. This construction is beginning to fall out of the language in some cases. Jan 27 at 18:28

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