Usage and Grammar

Q. What determines the verb of an adjectival clause—the subject of the main clause or the noun to which the adjectival clause most closely relates? Here’s an example: “One of the paradoxes that emerges from studying scientific discovery is . . .” Many years ago, when grammar was still being taught, I learned that the noun “paradoxes” (to which the pronoun “that” relates) would dictate a plural verb, “emerge,” in the dependent clause. I continue to make this kind of change in scholarly editing but oftentimes meet with authors’ resistance. What is your stance on this?

A. The writer’s intended sense and emphasis determine which noun gets the verb. In your opinion, the plural “paradoxes” makes the stronger referent for “that,” but in other cases the more distant singular might better serve, e.g., “One of her traits that appeals to him is that she never knows what she’s talking about.” You can read more about this issue in Fowler’s Modern English Usage, s.v. “agreement.”