POLL.

I’ve just been reading an article that takes issue with various examples of English usage, and I’m curious about the extent to which English speakers agree with the author. Do any of the following sound wrong to you, and if so, why?
1) “One of the main facts that have induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race…”
2) “Seventy-five percent of loons were found to have mercury in their livers or their feathers.”
3) “We played some good games, and our senses of humor clicked.”
Also, in his latest column William Safire refers to “the famous expression a sop to Cerberus, metaphorically meaning ‘an insignificant price to pay for averting much discomfort.’ I confess I was not familiar with the expression; are you?

Comments

  1. The phrase ‘a sop to Cerberus’, meaning a bribe or a small price paid to avoid complications or discomfort isn’t much used these days though it had cliché status a generation or two back.
    I don’t like sentence 1, mostly because I think ‘induce’ should be ‘led’.

  2. No. 1 sounds wrong. I would have written “one of the facts” or “the main fact that has.” “One of the main” seems akin to “most unique.”
    On No. 2, a prescriptivist would probably require “was found”, but since there are multiple loons, it sounds OK to me.
    No. 3 works for me.

  3. snakeface says:

    Number 1 I would use “Has”. I think the “declare against” construction is new to me, but I don’t really have a problem with it.
    The others are fine to me.

  4. SnowLeopard says:

    Is this a test of plural usage? I don’t like (1) because “have” should be “has” to agree with “one”. I suppose a proper ending to the sentence might, in principle, make “have” tolerable, but I can’t think of an example. But I also agree with an earlier comment — “induce” has connotations of volition and manipulation (or at least force, if we’re talking physics) that can’t be attributed to facts. And “declare against Asia as the cradle” is hideous — I know what it means, but the writer is so elision-happy that it takes some parsing. “Declare” is such a loaded, political-sounding word here, even if philologists do turn out to be especially factious. I would have opted for “decided against Asia being the cradle of the race” (which unfortunately suggests they had some say in the matter), or better, “concluded that Asia was not the cradle of the race”. The writer realizes the sentence is too long and has made some unfortunate choices.
    I don’t like (2) because the universe of loons hasn’t been defined — I don’t know whether that’s style or rhythm or grammar. You could say 75% of all loons or 75% of loons in Canada, but 75% of just “loons” sounds clumsy to me. But loons are countable objects and “were” belongs in the plural.
    (3)’s “We played some good games,” in a vacuum is also clumsy. The plural (feels like a dual) of “senses” is jarring but definitely meaningful, and I would permit it. “Our sense of humor” is sometimes, as here, too chilling in its presumptive conformism to be acceptable anyway. But then, I hate laugh tracks.

  5. Tim May says:

    I would have had “has” in 1, too. (Although I’m not sure that I find it ungrammatical as it is — I can tell that if I were to spend any time thinking about it I’d lose all confidence in my intuitions, so I won’t.) No other grammaticality problems for me.

  6. #1 seems a bit off, but #2 and #3 don’t set off any alarm bells.

  7. Nope, had to read all at least twice to make sense of them. The first one took me four tries. Awk. Very awk. Can we please start with the subject, rather than get lost in clauses?

  8. The main thing that struck me about (1) is the intransitive use of “declare”. That’s unacceptable to me, so the issue of “has” vs “have” paled into insignificance. (2) & (3) are fine.

  9. Now that I think about it, “declare” can be used intransitively but only in cricket.

  10. I think the people who prefer ‘has’ in sentence 1 are misinterpreting it. To me, the question is “what is the antecedent of ‘that’?” If it’s ‘one”, then the verb should be ‘has’, but to me it’s clear that the antecedent is ‘facts’, and the verb should be ‘have’.
    The author is saying that there are several facts that have induced philologists etc, one of which is….
    Gary

  11. Noetica says:

    1. I’m happy with have, and prefer it to has. I’m also happy with the unusual intransitive declare, for which support and precedent are to be found in OED:

    8. a. intr. (for refl.) to declare for (in favour of), or against: to make known or avow one’s sympathy, opinion, or resolution to act, for or against.

    [...] 1823 Lamb Elia Ser. ii. Poor Rel., He declareth against fish. 1855 Macaulay Hist. Eng. III. 642 Wexford had declared for King William. 1881 Henty Cornet of Horse xvii. 175 Rupert naturally declared at once for the journey to Paris.

    2. I note that if you had was found instead of were found, you might want its liver (bizarrely) and not their livers. But I’d keep it just as it stands. Subtle complications could be mentioned regarding the distributiveness of the or; but they are inconsequential.
    3. This is just sloppy colloquial language.
    And I had heard sop to Cerberus, yes.

  12. #3 seems good. I would say “the loons”. I would rewrite #1 for various reasons, without thinking about exactly why. It’s clumsy.

  13. mollymooly says:

    #1a: “One of the main facts that have”: I would have written “has” and then perhaps corrected it to “have”. Or better, struck it.
    #1b: “declare against Asia”: very clumsy phrasing. I too thought of cricket.
    #2: Might be clearer to write, say, “60% liver, 40% feathers, 25% both” rather than “75% either”. Or not.
    #3 “our senses of humor”: never seen this in plural, but I like it.
    “sop to cerberus”: doesn’t seem in practice to be used in any more specific sense than “sop”. Pity.

  14. 1) “Has” _sounds_ better than “have” to me, but not by much, and I admit “have” may be more appropriate in this case. It’s a somewhat awkward clause anyway.
    2) “Were found” is fine, but I would write “in their livers or in their feathers,” or “in their livers or feathers,” in place of what’s there.
    3) Ok.

  15. 1. (have and has would mean different things.) I don’t use declare intransitively, but I would not declare it to be wrong.
    2. Fine. I might even say that. That kind of collective takes a plural verb form (for me).
    3. Sounds like a line from the kind of fiction I avoid, but in no way wrong.
    sop to Cerberus: An allusion to Aeneid VI, sure. I wouldn’t use it, except when parodying an even older fuddy-duddy than I am. As a rule of thumb, if you declare something to be a “famous expression” and then proceed to explain it, it probably isn’t famous. On whether it’s an inherently bad name for something, as the column implies, I did once name a multi-faceted background server program for Tops-20 that dealt with various vaguely security-related tasks CERBER.

  16. Antimony says:

    #1 confuses me. The “declare against” phrasing is weird. I keep thinking, “declare what against?”
    I have no problem with “One of the main facts that have…” If you put the word is at the end, it would read correctly as “One of the blah blah blah is” (where blah blah blah = facts that have…). The subject/verb agreement works in that case (one/is, facts/have).
    I could do without the comma in #3.

  17. I have to disagree that #1 should read one of the facts that has… since, as Gary pointed out, the subject of ‘to have’ here, is ‘the main facts’, rather than ‘one of the main facts’. I’d parse this entire quote as complete noun phrase with an embedded S, the main facts have induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race, which will presumably be followed directly by is, the matrix verb of the entire sentence, which is inflecting for the entire noun-phrase One of the…
    As for #2, apart from not knowing what on Earth a loon is (having feathers, it’s presumably a bird and not an insane person), the only problem I have is the repetition of ‘their’. I’d have said in their livers or feathers.
    I probably wouldn’t have written #3 naturally, but I can’t see anything wrong with it.

  18. Going with my first thoughts (plus a little analysis.
    1) “One of the main facts that have induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race…”
    Verb agreement issue: it should be “has”, not “had”.
    “induced” used with a human object doesn’t fit here for me. I’d only use it if there was coercion involved, and facts can’t torture or coerce.
    “to declare against Asia . . .” doesn’t sound right, but I can’t figure out why.
    2) “Seventy-five percent of loons were found to have mercury in their livers or their feathers.”
    Besides the fact that I automatically read it in a stereotyped high-brow English accent (In my head, of course), nothing at all.
    3) “We played some good games, and our senses of humor clicked.”
    Sounds odd. If I had to make a guess I’d say that “clicked” only sounds good to me with a pronoun subject that refers to a number of humans (prefferably two. “They clicked” or “We clicked” are best.

  19. I read and re-read. I didn’t find any awkward senses. They all actually “felt good” to me.

  20. Paul Clapham says:

    Is it possible that the complaint about (2) was that it is in the passive voice? Nothing wrong with that, it’s basically a requirement in scientific papers. Which is where the quote appears to come from.

  21. 2 and 3 are OK for me. 1 sounds odd to me but I’m not sure that it’s the issue of subject-verb number agreement.
    I’m not familiar with the phrase Safire used. But then there are quite a few terms Safire uses that I’m not familiar with.

  22. 2 & 3 reminds me of that rule of Latin composition I’m always trying remind people of: when talking about the collective body parts of a group (e.g. “their livers”), Latin uses the same number it would if there were only one memeber of the group.
    Er… in other words, “…in pennis et iocinore” “In their feathers and their liver.” Not “livers” unless these are mutant ducks with multiple livers.
    Is that what we’re on about here?

  23. Justin, I’m pretty sure that is what is under discussion. The rule you give also holds for Spanish: siempre en nuestro corazón “forever in our heart”.
    I should note here that I’m surprised how many people claim they would use ‘has’ in (1). That would mean the ‘that…’ relative clause would modify ‘one’, rather than ‘the main facts’. Ridiculous! The reader would be left asking “what main facts…?”.
    It’s the difference between:
    [one of the main facts [that has...]]
    and
    one of [the main facts [that have...]]

  24. Charles says:

    1) “One of the main facts that have induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race…”
    have -> has; agreement by number
    as -> being; just sounds awkward to me
    2) “Seventy-five percent of loons were found to have mercury in their livers or their feathers.”
    no problem
    3) “We played some good games, and our senses of humor clicked.”
    no problem

  25. “one of the main facts that have…”
    sloppy, silly, wordy, and pointless. how about: “the main fact that has…”
    “75% of loons were…”
    you’re talking about the percentage, therefore: “75% of loons was found…” the percentage is a singular representation of the population.
    “our senses of humor clicked.”
    that’s dumb in the face. try: “our sense of humor clicked” or “our senses of humors clicked.” it uses a plural followed by a singular. agreement, anyone. (sorry, could not resist the pun.)

  26. “Philologists no longer hold Asia to be the cradle of the race, for a number of reasons. One of these is that . . .”
    “Cradle of the race” is creepy!

  27. kyle: it uses a plural followed by a singular
    No, it uses a plural followed by a non-count noun.
    Your argument makes as much sense as saying it must be “our bottle of milk” or “our bottles of milks” but NOT “our bottles of milk”.

  28. Charles: have -> has; agreement by number
    No, ‘have’ agrees with plural ‘facts’.

  29. (Sorry LH, I got a bit carried away – of course there’s no right or wrong answers in an opinion poll! :)

  30. I’m commenting without reading other comments so as not to be corrupted, so sorry if I’m duplicating what’s already been said.
    1) “One of the main facts that have induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race…”
    “Declare against [noun] as [predicate]” does not sound idiomatic to me. I’d go with “reject [noun] as [predicate]” or “discard the idea of [noun] as [predicate]” or whatnot.
    2) “Seventy-five percent of loons were found to have mercury in their livers or their feathers.”
    This sounds fine to me. (“Their liver” would also fine to me, if that’s what you’re getting at.)
    3) “We played some good games, and our senses of humor clicked.”
    This sounds odd; people and personalities can “click” (in colloquial registers), but their senses of humor can’t. They can share a sense of humor, or their senses of humor can jibe or complement each other or go well together, but their senses of humor can’t “click.”
    (All these are my personal impressions, obviously. If you care, I’m an immigrant who was raised in Michigan, who attended college in Ohio, and who as of recently resides in Colorado.)

  31. nomis–
    thanks, i had never heard of noncount nouns before! i knew the concept, of course, but had never seen it defined. nonetheless, since “humors” is a word, and doesn’t change the semantic content, to me it sounds a bit less awkward…

  32. The only thing that seems wrong to me is ‘declare against’ in the first. I have met ‘declare against’ in political senses, maybe even in cricket without noticing it. But it looks misplaced – could even be a non-native speaker using a term in the wrong context.
    I agree the plural ‘have’ is ‘wrong’, but it’s common and I would find it pedantic to insist on the singular.

  33. Kyle: since “humors” is a word, and doesn’t change the semantic content
    Well, “humors” certainly is a word, but it makes me think of medieval medicine, not comedy. Also, I feel that there is only one “humor”, but we all have different senses (perceptions) of it. Consider “our views of the sunset” — one sunset, many perceptions.
    Having said that, I can imagine someone saying “our sense-of-humors clicked”, where the whole expression is reinterpreted as one lexeme (like “cup-of-teas”).
    Who’d have thought pluralisation would be so complicated? (Not to mention the fact that “humor” is a misspelling to my eyes!)

  34. None of them sound incorrect to me, though 1 is a bit stilted – its use of “philologist” makes “declare” seem ok – doesn’t sound American, so I accept it.

  35. Not to mention the fact that “humor” is a misspelling to my eyes!
    Damn Straight!
    The pluralisation question is interesting though, and I think it may have been Mr. Verb who brought up the issue of ‘proper’ pluralisation when he satirically recounted that Bill Saffire walked into a Burger King and ordered two “whoppers deluxe”, but I could be wrong.
    I reckon Ran hit the nail on the head with respect to the argument structure of ‘declare’, it had been implied before, but Ran said it best. I must admit I didn’t even read it the first time; I have a habit of ignoring relative clauses altogether.

  36. J. Del Col says:

    A sop to Cerberus should be familiar to anyone who has read Dante’s –Inferno–, specifically the beginning of Canto VI, in which Virgil distracts the beast by tossing it handfuls of earth.
    J. Del Col

  37. Intransitive “declare” is used in card games (bridge, I think), other bidding events, as short for “declared his candidacy”, etc. No problem.
    Otherwise, though, #1 has so many problems that you really should just start over from scratch.

  38. Is that what we’re on about here?
    Yes, exactly.
    I’m surprised how many people claim they would use ‘has’ in (1).
    Me too, though I’m not surprised that it’s the only one most people had any problem with—that’s what I expected.
    For those who are wondering, the objections in the article were to the uses of singular and plural; the author thought the first should be “that has induced” (the sentence is from the 19th century, which may help explain a few things), the second “in their liver” (which sounds completely wrong to me), and the third “our sense of humor” (ditto—how can two people have a single sense of humor?).

  39. All of them seem relatively OK to me…
    1 is a type of construction I come across fairly frequently; it would sound wrong with a plural main verb (which sometimes happens with long intervening clauses). Maybe needlessly complex but not wrong per se to my ear.
    2 and 3 are completely fine to me, even after reconsidering them in light of previous comments.
    (my language background is Midwest US).

  40. When did grammar ever have anything to do with the question of possibility? I would say it’s not that two people can’t have a single sense of humor, it’s that one thing can’t click, in this sense, by itself. It can only click with something else.
    For instance “You and I have a common sense of humor” is as grammatical, and impossible, as the sentence “You and I have a common liver”.

  41. #1: declare against? Also, I would use has instead of have. Induce sounds weird too
    I think the other two sound fine though.

  42. dearieme says:

    #1 is poor stuff: its message is “I, the author, can’t be bothered to work out just what I mean and express it unambiguously and gracefully, so stuff you, o reader.”

  43. They’re all fine, though none are quite what I would write.

  44. Ginger Yellow says:

    1) Reads horribly, but because of the overall sentence structure and word choice more than anything else. Given the structure, “have” feels odd because you expect “One of… is”, but at the same time it makes sense grammatically in context. I would rewrite and avoid the problem altogether.
    2) Marginally iffy, but I probably use exactly the same construction commonly. I’m happy with singular or plural “liver”, although I think the plural sounds more acceptable if you cut the sentence off there than in the full sentence.
    3) Fine.

  45. What is the original article you were reading? I find all his “corrections” to be in line with what I was taught. I wonder if this is a case of British vs. American usage. Could you please post the reference?

  46. #1 – I actually assume the have/has distinction is a meaningful one here… ‘have’ suggests to me that many facts have induced philologists etc, and we’re about to hear one. ‘has’ would suggest that there are many facts, but only one has induced philologists etc, and we’re about to hear it. (That said, I fully expect that people use ‘have’ and ‘has’ interchangeably in such contexts, and in practice I probably wouldn’t notice a huge difference.)
    #2 – sounds totally grammatical to me. ‘was’ would sound wrong to me.
    #3 – doesn’t sound wrong exactly, but sounds awkward to me. But I’d have to say that singular ‘sense’ would sound more wrong to my ear (‘we’ can’t very well jointly possess a single sense of humor). So I don’t have much of an improvement…
    Disclaimer: I’m from the US, with Chicago-influenced but otherwise General American dialect (as far as I can tell!).

  47. In no. 1, “have” should be “has.” The bigger problem, however, is the structure of the sentence. Why hide the simple meaning behind such obfuscatory verbiage? Instead, try “One of the main reasons philologists do not believe Asia is the cradle of the race . . .” Simpler, more direct language and fewer words.
    No. 2 is quite clear and correct.
    No. 3 is awkward because of its lack of parallel structure. Depending on context and meaning, you could simply separate the independent clauses with a semi-colon to make a more readable sentence.

  48. I wonder if this is a case of British vs. American usage. Could you please post the reference?
    Unpublished, I’m afraid. The author is not a native of the U.K. but may have picked up U.K. usage at some point. However, in this thread you seem to be the only one in complete agreement with the author, and I’m pretty sure you’re not the only U.K. respondent.

  49. Well, I’ll take a stab:
    1) Growing up in U.S. schools, I was taught (and in journalism school, too, for that matter) to ignore prepositional phrases when determining subject/verb agreement, so ONE takes a singular HAS.
    2) I think I recall (although I wouldn’t be adamant about it) that, when dealing with percentages, they’re treated grammatically as singular, although it doesn’t make sense to me. Which would make it WAS instead of WERE. I can buy the Latin argument for liver/feathers.
    3) Senses of humor is really awkward. I would probably just rewrite this sentence to avoid the issue.
    I hadn’t heard the “famous expression,” although I have read Dante’s _Inferno_.

  50. John raised an interesting point. Both have and has would be grammatical in the first sentence, but they have slightly different propositional meaning, one of which is closer to the intended meaning.
    If you use have, you’re describing all of the main facts, specifically, you’re saying that ‘all of the main facts have induced philologists…’ and that there is one in particular that will be further expanded upon.
    If on the other hand, you use has, then you’re describing one fact as ‘having induced philologists…’, from a set of “all main facts”.
    Each is therefore grammatical (to differing degrees though, I must add), but the latter isn’t, I suspect, what the writer intended. As someone mentioned way earlier (too far back for me to trawl through), it leaves the reader asking ‘what main facts?’.
    Moreover, the phrase structure would probably preference ‘have’, since otherwise, there’d be a prepositional phrase sitting there, separating the relative clause from its antecedent, which is clunky and probably (not a psycholinguist) perceptually marked. Using ‘have’ makes for a clean phrase structure, noun phrase ending in prepositional phrase, ending in subordinate clause.
    I too, am surprised by the number of commenters claiming that it should be ‘has’. I suspect that if it were ‘has’, it’d only be a surface irregularity and would still be perceived as being predicated on “the main facts” rather than “one of the main facts”. That is, a style-guide constraint is forcing an irregular choice of verb inflection superimposed on a regular, grammatical structure. You could probably construct an experiment to test this, concoct a sentence of the same structure than can only be understood with the relative clause as a predicate of the prepositional phrase only. See how it’s parsed.
    Did that make any sense?

  51. Jangari: Did that make any sense?
    Perfect sense. Couldn’t have (and didn’t) put it better myself.
    I quite agree that, whether ‘have’ or ‘has’ is used, the relative clause would actually be construed as modifying ‘the main facts’.

  52. The Microsoft Grammar Check makes frequent errors on subject-verb agreement when a noun is modified by a prep. phrase.

  53. michael farris says:

    Leaving aside ‘declare against’ (dedicedly odd to me)
    1. For me, it’s hard for a relative clause in English to modify anything except the noun what it’s sitting closest to, so I prefer ‘have’. With more context, it might be possible for ‘has’ as in:
    “One of the main facts that has induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race was long disregarded as irrelevant.”
    But with the fragment we have to work with here, I strongly prefer ‘have’ and ‘has’ sounds wrong. In my idiolect (and within my stylistic biases) adjency counts for a lot in terms of agreement.
    2. ‘were’ sounds right here, again, a different context might make ‘was’ possible but it sounds wrong to me here.
    3. A little awkward (more context might change that) but ‘senses of humor’ is fine for me. In my idiolect I think plural possessors pretty much have to have plural possessed nouns (if countable) ‘our sense of humor’ makes no sense with ‘clicked’ (which requires a plural subject or a prepositional phrase) and ‘sense of humors’ would be a reference to 18th century (time approximate) medical practices.

  54. But without said medical practice (closer to Greek medicine than 18th century, by the way) we wouldn’t have such wonderful terms as sanguine or phlegmatic, and we wouldn’t have metaphors such as ‘the body is a vessel of fluid’, which manifests in ‘my blood is boiling’, et cetera.

  55. David Marjanović says:

    There are already 54 comments, so, as a nonnative speaker who does more reading and even writing than talking, I might as well add my 0.02 €…
    1) “Induced” is far too abstract. It looks like someone deliberately avoided “led” because its sounds too normal. (This often happens in German when haben “have” suddenly becomes aufweisen.) “Declare against” doesn’t look idiomatic, I’d at least have expected “declare themselves against”, and because that still sounds unscientific, I’d have written something like “to think that Asia is most likely not the cradle of the race” (…if I’d write things like “the cradle of the race”, obviously). But “have” is the only correct option, because it refers to “facts”, not to “one”. Replacing it by “has” would destroy the whole sentence. I’d still parse it correctly — while developing a headache about English number agreement, and after having searched in vain for an explanation of what “the main facts” might be. Those who claim they’d prefer “has” should get more practice with long sentences!
    (It goes without saying that I have that practice just from knowing German; I have an unfair advantage from having learned long sentences the hard way. — Of course, the sentence in question doesn’t really have to be that long. Like: “Several important facts have led philologists to declare… . One of them is… .” But it’s still short enough for me to be comfortable with it. You ain’t seen nuthin yet.)
    2) I’d have written “of the loons”. “Of loons” sounds like a newspaper headline or some other place where articles and the like are dropped to save space. I don’t understand, however, how “75 %” could be singular. “1 %” is singular, “2 %” is not. Granted, it says “percent” and not “percents”, but, for example, currencies don’t have plurals in German (except for Schillinge “1-Schilling coins”). Hey, “zero” is plural, and “0.1″ is plural, too.
    3) I haven’t come across “click” in such a sense. I can’t find anything wrong with “senses of humor”, unless we were already informed that “we” have exactly the same sense of humor.

  56. David Marjanović says:

    OK… I should have put a few empty lines into the previous comment.

    “One of the main facts that has induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race was long disregarded as irrelevant.”

    Not for me, no. “One” agrees with “was” (two lines later), and “facts” agrees with “have” (two words later).

  57. Ginger Yellow says:

    On the percentage issue, here’s how I go about it in my daily writing. It’s a simple mass/count noun distinction.
    The following are correct (according to my style guide and my personal taste):
    75% of the portfolio was insured.
    75% of the loans were insured.
    75% was insured.
    75% were insured.
    The following are not:
    *75% of the portfolio were insured.
    *75% of the loans was insured.
    On 1), I don’t see how you can construe the relative clause as referring to anything other than “the main facts”. There’s no such thing as “main facts” independent of context.

  58. Well I’d still distinguish between grammatical problems and simple sentence meaning problems. I think there’s no grammatical problem with ‘has’; it just forces ‘that’ to be singular, in which case its referent must be ‘one’. Now I totally agree with Jangari, nomis, Ginger Yellow, et al: this reading leaves ‘the main facts’ creepily ambiguous (unless ‘the main facts’ had already been made clear from preceding sentences; but even then I’d expect ‘these main facts’ or some such). But at that point it isn’t an agreement problem, it’s just a broken sentence; I’d be left scratching my head a bit with ‘has’, but not for grammatical reasons.
    In any case, I agree, it’s overwhelmingly likely that the author used ‘have’ intentionally because ‘that’ refers to ‘facts’. It’s the most sensible interpretation of the sentence, and it matches the verb form used. So I think there’s no problem with the sentence as written. (well, it could stand some rewriting, but that’s a stylistic judgment, not a grammatical one.)

  59. I had to read the first one a couple of times – it’s not beautiful, and I was a little dubious about “declare against”. But I don’t see anything wrong with it.
    2) seems perfectly good plain English to me.
    3) seems OK. “Our senses of humour” feels a bit strange, but the only alternative would be “our sense of humour” and he’s not saying they had the same sense of humour, only compatible versions of a sense of humour. I suppose I’m thinking of “sense of humour” as a universal thing of which each person may or may not have an instance, rather than a multiple thing of which each person has one. But I don’t feel the sentence is wrong.

  60. In case it matters, I’m British. In (1), I think “have” and “has” are about equally reasonable. Starting with “one of the main facts,” makes the sentence so vague anyway that there’s little to be gained from making a choice. I don’t think I would have any problem with “declare against” in a more elegant sentence. It feels a bit old-fashioned and I think it means “declare their opposition to,” or “declare that they do not believe in”. It’s not the same use as in cricket, in which you can simply, intransitively, “declare” (not “against”, although you are playing against the opposition, you don’t declare “against” them, you just “declare”).

  61. Ginger Yellow says:

    “I suppose I’m thinking of “sense of humour” as a universal thing of which each person may or may not have an instance, rather than a multiple thing of which each person has one.”
    I think the opposite. For me, a sense of humour is not analagous to, say, a sense of smell. Rather it is roughly analgous to “taste” in an aesthetic sense. Would you say “our taste clicked” or “our tastes clicked”? I go with the latter, personally.

  62. Unpublished, I’m afraid. The author is not a native of the U.K. but may have picked up U.K. usage at some point. However, in this thread you seem to be the only one in complete agreement with the author, and I’m pretty sure you’re not the only U.K. respondent.

    Indian, to be precise, although that of course means largely British usage (at least for my generation). What I find interesting was that they were the only possible “mistakes”, to me, and yet so many comments looked for (and “found”) other ones. Now I wonder if this is generational as well as US/UK. And also if what I perceive as the “correct” style is favoured in literary fiction and criticism, which is and generally has been the bulk of my reading.

  63. Terry Collmann says:

    Try reordering/rewriting the sentences slightly, and it becomes clear whether singular or plural verb forms are required:
    “of the main facts that have induced philologists to declare against Asia as the cradle of the race, one [is ]…”
    “Out of every 100 loons, 75 were found to have mercury in their livers or their feathers …”
    “Three quarters of loons were found to have mercury in thei livers …”
    On the other hand, while I agree that you’d say
    “Seventy-five per cent of the cake was eaten” – a cake being a unity – would it be
    “Three quarters of the cake was eaten”
    or
    “Three quarters of the cake were eaten”
    Only “were”, I think, if the cake had been cut into actual quarters …

  64. The sop for Cerberus comes from the Aeneid, if I remember my schooldays correctly; on his descent into the Underworld, the hero passes Cerberus by giving him (depending on your translation) a cake, a loaf, or a piece of bread – a sop (used to sop up sauce or gravy on the plate.
    Virgil doesn’t follow his own advice in “Inferno” – he blocks Cerberus’ throats with handfuls of earth, rather than distracting him with food.

  65. Sentence 1) causes me a momentary twinge, probably because the first few words remind me of other, incorrect constructions. On further scrutiny, I find no fault.
    If I were editing sentence 2), I would say “… of all loons …”, or “… of the loons examined …”. As written, it makes me think of the loons as an amorphous mass.
    No problem with 3).
    I know I’ve read “a sop to Cerberus” before, but maybe only in one of William Safire’s columns. Anyway, if you know what a sop is and what Cerberus was, the meaning is clear.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    75% of the portfolio was insured.
    75% of the loans were insured.
    75% was insured.
    75% were insured.

    OK. I agree.

  67. JRRT once got a letter (addressed to “any Professor of English Language”) asking which was correct, “a number of walls is being completed” or “are”. He replied, of course, that you can say what you like.

  68. I have seen the phrase “a sop for Cerberus” once; it was in The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie, a book of short stories about Hercule Poirot .

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