Verbal Agreement with Collective Nominal Constructions: Syntactic and Semantic Determinants

Yolanda Fernández-Pena


This corpus-based study investigates the patterns of verbal agreement of twenty-three singular collective nouns which take of-dependents (e.g., a group of boys, a set of points). The main goal is to explore the influence exerted by the of-PP on verb number. To this end, syntactic factors, such as the plural morphology of the oblique noun (i.e., the noun in the of-PP) and syntactic distance, as well as semantic issues, such as the animacy or humanness of the oblique noun within the of-PP, were analysed. The data show the strongly conditioning effect of plural of-dependents on the number of the verb: they favour a significant proportion of plural verbal forms. This preference for plural verbal patterns, however, diminishes considerably with increasing syntactic distance when the of-PP contains a non-overtly-marked plural noun such as people. The results for the semantic issues explored here indicate that animacy and humanness are also relevant factors as regards the high rate of plural agreement observed in these constructions.

Keywords: agreement; collective; of-PP; distance; animacy; corpus

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