a people (follow up question)

English grammar questions, answered by Alan

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Nami Nami
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a people (follow up question)

Post by Nami Nami » Wed Jul 03, 2013 3:54 am

Dear teacher,

Thanks for your reply.

My last question was why "a" is placed in front of the plural noun "people" for the following lyrics from "Do you hear the people sing?":
- It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!
- It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.

And you replied: 'People' here is a singular noun meaning 'race/ethnic group' (not the plural of 'person').

My question this time is: how do we know we should use plural "slaves" (not "a slave") and "are climbing" (not "is climbing") after this singular noun? I am confused with "a people who are ....". Thanks.

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Re: a people (follow up question)

Post by Alan » Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:59 am

Confusing, I grant you, but...

1. (Despite some misconceptions on this point, even among certain natives who should know better) there is no requirement in English for concord of number between a subject and its complement.

2. On account of a linguistic phenomenon technically termed 'synesis', usage, particularly in BrE, allows for a formally singular noun that refers to a group of persons (e.g. family, government, etc.) to govern a plural verb.


A people who are slaves

is perfectly acceptable!