The Grammar Logs


A language teacher claims that the use of "whoever" in the following sentence is correct:

"Some group leaders cannot handle the pressure; they give whoever makes the most noise most of their attention."

I feel that it should have been "whomever". What do you think?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Singapore # Thu, Jul 10, 2003
Grammar's Response

Much as I hate to, this time I have to go along with your teacher. We need to use the subject form, "whoever," because we're looking for the subject of that clause "whoever makes the most noise." That clause, then, becomes the indirect object of the verb "give," but that does not change the form of the "whoever." ("Most of their attention" is the direct object.)


It has always been my understanding that you should use the following; you take a decision, not, you make a decision. Can you help me here? Which is correct? Thank you.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Nashua, New Hampshire # Thu, Jul 10, 2003
Grammar's Response

According to Bryan Garner, "take a decision" is a Britishism that began to "invade" the United States in the late 20th century. "Make a decision" prevails, still, in the U.S.

From The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Styleby Bryan Garner. Copyright 1995 by Bryan A. Garner. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.,, and used with the gracious consent of Oxford University Press.


Which is correct?

  • We are a church family who love the Lord.
  • We are a church family who loves the Lord.
Source of Question, Date of Response
Washington, D.C. # Thu, Jul 10, 2003
Grammar's Response

The "who" refers to the singular entity, "family," which seems to cry out for the singular "loves," but I don't think the notion referred to here, the individual members of the family that make up "we" is ever lost, so I'd stick with the plural verb, "love." On the other hand, I think I'd use "that" instead of "who," anyway, and — because the "that" refers more specifically to the singular "family," I'd go with the singular verb, then: "We are a church family that loves the Lord."


I'm having a raging debate with another. Please tell me if this is a proper sentence:

"Curious, the ease with which Alex is able to dictate his novel."

If it is a sentence, please explain why. If it is sometimes proper, please explain when.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Natick, Massachusetts # Thu, Jul 10, 2003
Grammar's Response

You're looking at a form of "ellipsis," a construction in which something is left out of a sentence when the reader is perfectly capable of supplying what is missing. In this case, the expletive construction "It is [curious]" can be omitted because it would add nothing, really, to the sentence. (The rest of the sentence would then be an appositive for "it.") Here's another sentence with ellipsis:

Of time, I have plenty; of money, no need.

Kolln refers to ellipsis as a "stylistic variation."

Authority: Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolln. 4rth Edition. MacMillan Publishing Company: New York. 1994. p. 380.


Hi, I want to ask why the bolded word below is not "not deviated" but "not deviate"? What is the reason for it and are verbs following the word "not" always in its infinitive form? Thank you!

A careful design and review pattern should therefore be enforced so that executive action and performance can be properly guided and not deviate from the objectives of a company
Source of Question, Date of Response
Unknown # Fri, Jul 11, 2003
Grammar's Response

Your instincts about something being wrong with the verb are correct, but your correction of the problem wouldn't help. The problem is that the first verb applied to the compound subject, "can be guided," is in the passive voice and the second verb, "deviate," is in the active voice. I don't know what it is that is supposed to properly guide the executive action and performance, but that thing should be allowed a more active role in the sentence. Why can't we just say "so that executive action and performance will not deviate from the company's objectives"? Or be more positive about it and say that "performance will meet the company's objectives"?


I am currently studying for the SAT II Writing Test and use Strunk and White's The Elements of Style as a reference. This book declares that "a common blunder is the use of a singular verb form in a relative clause following "one of..." or a similar expression when the relative is the subject." The books claims that the following example is incorrect:

One of the ablest men who has attacked this problem...

That instead, the sentence should be corrected to:

One of the ablest men who HAVE attacked this problem...

I have always been under the impression that when using "one" followed by a prepositional phrase, the "one" is the subject and should have a singular verb, similar to using a singular verb after "each of the dogs" or "none of the flowers".

In my SAT II Writing book by Kaplan, the following sentence appeared:

"The recent discovery that at least one of the Jupiter's moons possesses an internal heat source has led to speculation that there may be life elsewhere in our solar system."

If the grammar rule in Strunk and White's book is correct, shouldn't the verb possesses be corrected to possess? However, my book asserts that there is no error in the sentence.

I am very confused! Who is correct?

One more question: Is the clause "number of immigrants" singular or plural? My SAT II book says that "number" is plural and a sentence would be "A number of immigrants FIND". I had always assumed number was singular...

Please provide some insight into this question! I cannot seem to find an answer anywhere. Thank you!

Source of Question, Date of Response
Fayetteville, North Carolina # Fri, Jul 11, 2003
Grammar's Response

You can usually sort out a "one of _____" subject-verb dilemma by turning the sentence inside out. We would say "Of the ablest men who have attacked this problem, he is one … " The "who" refers to the plural "men" so it needs a plural verb, "have." It's not quite the same as "each of the dogs," which would always be singular, or "none of the flowers," which could be either singular or plural (but is probably plural). In the sentence about Jupiter, the "one" is modified by "at least," which is going to make it singular (so the "possesses" is correct).

Your SAT book doesn't go far enough about "number": "A number" is always plural; "the number" is always singular. "The number of students voting for the NCAA has risen sharply," but "A number of students are waiting in the president's office."


Would you say "After the project is complete,..." or "After the project is completed,..."? Or can you even use a past participle with "is"? Maybe it should be "Once the project has been completed,..."?? I like "is complete" but am unable to defend it. How would I look this up in a style manual? Context: the time frame for what's being discussed starts with the completion of a project and lasts indefinitely.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Austin, Texas # Sun, Jul 13, 2003
Grammar's Response

"Completed" would mean "done" or "finished," which is probably what you mean. "Complete" would suggest that all the pieces of the project have been assembled or brought together, which is possible, but probably not what you mean. Your description of the context as something that "starts with the completion and lasts indefinitely" sounds like the addition we're putting on the back of our house.


I have seen the conjunction pair not only/but also written as not only/but (also). I think 'also' cannot be optional. Please consider the following two sentences:

  1. Sinus infections demand treatment not only because they are painful but because they can spread.
  2. The medium chosen by the artist is a reflection not only of the artist's perception of aesthetic beauty but of resources that society has to supply.

In both sentences I feel 'also' is required. Perhaps because the second sentence is longer, it seems more in need of 'also'. In the first sentence omitting the 'also' seems to suggest that spreading is a greater factor than pain. In the second, the omission seems to suggest that resources is the minor reflection. Is 'also' required, and why do I detect opposing nuances?

Source of Question, Date of Response
Seoul, Korea # Sun, Jul 13, 2003
Grammar's Response

I like the prescription in the New York Times style manual regarding "not only, but [also]":

The also in the construction is generally preferred, but may be omitted if something else furnishes the balance or if the second part of the sentence describes an action more sweeping than the first.

The "also," when it is present, suggests the notion of addition, which is not always to the point. When it is not there (the NY Times manual suggests), the second part of the comparison is more "sweeping." That describes the two sentences you provide, I think: the second part of each comparison is somewhat more sweeping, grander, more important. In your second sentence, the "also" might help hold together these two — somewhat more complex — things.

Authority: The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. by Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. Times books: New York. 1999. p. 233.


"They are more prominent in children, and if enlarged, can obstruct air passageways."

Is this correct comma placement? Can the comma be placed after "and" to read:

"They are more prominent in children and, if enlarged, can obstruct air passageways."

Source of Question, Date of Response
North Easton, Massachusetts # Mon, Jul 14, 2003
Grammar's Response

The second version is an improvement. The conjunction "and" is capable of connecting the two parts of the compound verb by itself — "are" and "can obstruct" — and the "if enlarged" can be treated as a parenthetical element and be set off with a pair of commas.


If substantives are simply another name for nouns used in various ways, as various sentence parts (in noun form, of course), then why do I have an instructor who keeps insisting on our using the term substantive(s)? Help me understand the substantive.

I am also becoming more confused about predicate complements, predicate objectives, objective complements, and the terms complement and predicate-objective, nominative, and the like.

Source of Question, Date of Response
Jackson, Mississippi # Mon, Jul 14, 2003
Grammar's Response

The word substantive is sometimes used, by some grammarians, to refer to any structure or sentence element that functions as a noun. ("Nominal" is used similarly.) You can find it defined (but not used) in Kolln's book, but it doesn't appear in the gigantic tome of Quirk and Greenbaum, for instance. It might prove useful in categorizing things that don't look particularly like nouns, but that function nonetheless as nouns — gerunds, gerund phrases, infinitive phrases that take the role of things like subjects, objects, etc., noun phrases and clauses, and subject clauses in general. The term does serve a purpose. Regarding predicate objectives, complements, etc., I don't blame you for becoming confused. There are too many different terms used to describe the same thing. See our section on objects, direct and otherwise for some help.

Authority: A University Grammar of English by Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum. Longman Group: Essex, England. 1993. Used with permission.

Authority: Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolln. 4rth Edition. MacMillan Publishing Company: New York. 1994.


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