I'm wondering which of the following is correct:

Guns are an invention that have had an enormous impact on African history.


Guns are an invention that has had an enormous impact on African history.

These sentences aren't actually being used in my report, but I decided to create them to save you from the grammatical horror of my actual run-on sentences.

Anyway, I know "have" is used for plural subjects and "has" is used for singular subjects (wrong term, I'm sure), but I'm unsure as to whether the subject is the plural "guns" or the singular "invention." Microsoft Word is suggesting the latter sentence. Is that correct?

  • 3
    Rewrite to one of: "The gun is an invention that has had..." or "The invention of the gun has had...". I like the second one.
    – Jim
    Aug 19, 2012 at 19:11
  • 3
    Yes Jim. The correct answer, if we decide to go with strict, prescriptive rules of concord, is neither is correct. Guns are an invention is where the problem lies. There are other situations where concord rules become much more difficult to maintain. Aug 19, 2012 at 19:33
  • A situation where concord rules are much more difficult to maintain: "scissors were an invention that ...". Sep 17, 2015 at 2:10

5 Answers 5


The subject of the verb is an invention - which is singular, so the verb-form should be too.

Here are a few written instances of "are an invention that has". Note that Google Books contains no examples of "are an invention that have".

Don't bother even thinking about what Microsoft Word recommends or queries - at best it might be useful for flagging up glaring typos/etc. Beyond that, it has no credibility.

  • Why the downvote? Aug 19, 2012 at 19:29
  • 1
    OP's wording of the sentence inclines more toward have as it looks like it refers to guns not invention. If we drop the explanatory are an invention, it clearly refers to guns. Not saying it should be have but I think it would be better to reword the sentence. What do you think?
    – Noah
    Aug 19, 2012 at 19:29
  • Plus, I didn't down vote.
    – Noah
    Aug 19, 2012 at 19:30
  • 3
    @Noah: exactly — if we drop "an invention that", then the verb refers to guns. However, in the sentence at hand, we do not drop "an invention that". By your logic, every sentence in English is ungrammatical, because if we drop a few words we get gibberish. Besides, rewording is chickening out. It is the opposite of answering. We are here to answer questions, not to dodge them.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 19, 2012 at 20:00
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers - Well, I was planning to rephrase it if "has" was the correct grammar and keep it if "have" was the correct grammar. To me, "has" just sounds more awkward.
    – user12173
    Aug 20, 2012 at 23:35

The relative clause with "that ..." refers to invention and not to guns. So the sentence should be:

Guns are an invention that has had an enormous impact on African history.
Guns are an invention that had an enormous impact on African history.


As the sentence starts, it seems like "guns" is the subject, but as the sentence progresses and comes to "an invention that", "an invention" becomes the subject, so it should be has. Moreover, the meaning of the sentence also refers to the invention of the guns, which has had an enormous impact.


Re this sentence (or its proposed sibling): "Guns are an invention that have had an enormous impact on African history.

Guns were not invented; a 'gun' was, however.

When I approach a sentence like this I wonder if the intent is to expound upon 'inventions' have impact on history or 'guns' have impact on history?

Probably the intent is to focus on guns. If so, the stripped down version of this sentence is: "Guns have had an impact on history." And when I do that, then I prefer 'have' rather than 'has'.

  • There are 210 000+ Google hits for "are an invention". There seem to be a fair number of relevant hits among these (on the first page alone, 'bikinis are an invention' / 'nanobots are an invention' / 'guns are an invention'.) The perhaps illogical usage is idiomatic. Aug 29, 2015 at 16:12
  • Computers are an invention... The computer is an invention... I suppose I can change my opinion on the matter. "Computers are an invention" would be used to suggest something a kin to "this whole classification" of objects rather than the more acute "the computer is an invention" which, somehow feels to me like the statement has less wiggle room, like a more committed statement (ie, probably because the reference is to a specific thing rather than the classification to which the thing belongs). Sep 20, 2015 at 16:03

As I understand it, 'guns are an invention' is a singular abstract idea, so the verb referring to it should also be singular.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.