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I was writing a sentence and got to thinking about the verb here:

Let's see who [get / gets] this reference.

Who is the subject here but it might refer to more than one, or it might not!

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  • Compare: english.stackexchange.com/questions/551875/…
    – Stuart F
    Oct 27, 2022 at 9:28
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    In an interrogative clause like this, "who" defaults to singular agreement.
    – BillJ
    Oct 27, 2022 at 10:11
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    I voted to reopen this question because it deals with a quirky corner of the English language and is therefore interesting. Nevertheless, you can address the 'lack of research' matter by googling for sentences where "who" has (variously) singular and plural agreement. Edit your question to include the sentences as examples, and link to where you found them. This should address the reason-to-close and encourage others to vote to reopen your question.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 27, 2022 at 11:52
  • With that particular predicate, you're referring to an activity that people do one by one, not simultaneously -- "getting" a reference -- and therefore the singular is in order. Or you can do what was done in the answer -- use can get instead of get, and then there's no plural verb to worry about. Oct 27, 2022 at 14:45

2 Answers 2

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I'll change the example sentences for hopefully more clarity, showing context:

  • (1a) It's blowing a gale outside. Most people will vote with their feet. Let's see who get to the dance.

[plural agreement (after who) reasonable here; there are Google hits for "let's see who get" including "let's see who get it right", "let's see who get the farthest". More for "let's see who are elected / the underdogs / eligible ...".]

  • (2) The new Prime Minister will be elected today. Let's see who gets in.

[singular agreement after who forced here (although the way the UK is going ...)]

  • (1b) It's blowing a gale outside. Most people will vote with their feet. Let's see who gets to the dance.

[It is often quite acceptable to use the distributive singular, addressing / referring to the individual within a group / crowd /.... See They're using a cell-phone vs they're using cell-phones. Thus 'Gentlemen, give your wife a special greeting when you get home tonight.' / 'Girls, take your protractor in your left hand and ....'

So either option is available, though as @BillJ says, the default (where context doesn't override) is singular agreement ('gets') ... which covers one or more people getting the reference anyway.

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  • I think your plural-agreement examples are archaic. The problem with plural agreement here is it implies all of the group did the action or didn't. I'd suggest "which people" instead of "who" here.
    – Spencer
    Oct 27, 2022 at 15:58
  • "The people who get it" is probably a less awkward example.
    – Spencer
    Oct 27, 2022 at 16:00
  • I wonder if this has anything to do with American versus British verb agreement for collective nouns.
    – Spencer
    Oct 27, 2022 at 16:08
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who is an interrogative pronoun, meaning we use it as a replacement for a noun and which singularity or plurality can only be determined by the context or through a closer inspection of phrases surrounding it. In short, who can represent singular or plural noun.

Your sentence starts with Let's [let us] meaning you are addressing a group of people. We can conclude then that who is representing a plural noun [us].

Let us see who [among us] get the reference.

Or perhaps you may be an onlooker of some gathering and you are addressing yourself or a group of people (onlookers) to observe who among the people in the gathering can "get the reference."

Let us see who [among them] get the reference.

Moreover, the singularity and plurality of who here can be easily concluded since the sentence suggest that eventually one person among many will get the reference correctly.

PS.

I can see that you are relating who to the person/s that will get the reference right.

Note: This might not directly answer your question, but hopefully, will help you understand the use of who.

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    Hello, seven. Inserting the modal 'can' neatly sidesteps the original question. but does not answer it. Is 'Let's see who get this reference.' or 'Let's see who gets this reference.' correct here ... or are both correct, or is neither correct? Oct 27, 2022 at 15:21
  • Thank you for the insight, let me edit my answer.
    – seven
    Oct 28, 2022 at 0:01

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