General Writing and Grammar Help/'that's' or 'that are'?


This cropped up in some proofreading. I wonder if you could comment.

This is an extract from a real interview:

("What is driving the results"?)
"It's things going on outside of the schooling system that's driving the results"

To me that sounds perfectly natural, but other people say it should be 'that are' driving the results.

I've explained this by saying that <things going on outside of the schooling system> is a singular factor answering the question.
What do you think?

hi, Tim,

Many English speakers, even natives, struggle with this type of usage error because many speak and write incorrectly, so what sounds "natural" is actually incorrect. The usage error involves subject-verb "agreement" in "number."

When you have a singular or unitary (one) subject or a collective noun functioning as a single subject, the correct usage requires the third person singular form of the verb to be used. When you have a plural subject, the third person plural form of the verb should be used.

Subject-verb agreement is a standard rule to be followed even when the sentence order is inverted (as in your example) or the subject is assumed, hidden or unclear.

The subject in your example sentence is plural ("things"), therefore, both verbs referring to it should be plural.

The corrected sentence is: "There are things going on outside of the schooling system that are driving the results."

However, the sentence seems to be written in a vernacular that is indicative of a southeastern states, USA, less educated speaker/writer, intentionally. In that case, the usage should stay the way it is to reflect the character of the speaker/writer more accurately, even though it is incorrect.

I hope this helps. Please rate my response.

Take care,


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Sally Ember, Ed.D.


I can answer any grammar, writing, reading, editing and proofreading questions for nonfiction, fiction, literary criticism. I can also help in most content areas except for hard science and narrow areas of history. Specialize in E.S.L. , those with learning disabilities and processing problems. Clarity, fun, and simple answers as well as assisting with improving to excellence.


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