General Writing and Grammar Help/Might


Look at this example sentence please:

"This initiation ceremony might signify that the initiate undertakes new duties and correlate with the traditions and customs of the tribe."

What's the correct form of the verb =correlate= in this instance?

Infinitive because of =might= in the previous clause


present simple (=correlates=)?

Short answer:  no infinitive.


My preferred method of figuring out complicated sentences is to look for what I call the "skeleton":  the subject and the verb/verbs acting on it.  

Any other parts of the sentences will be "hangers-on" that just give more information.  

If we find the skeleton of your sentence, we can find out whether it's =correlate= or =correlates=.


Your sentence has a clause that starts =that the initiate=.  A clause is one of the hangers-on that I just mentioned.

Having a clause makes your sentence more complicated because a clause has its own subject and verb/verbs!  Therefore, we must sort out which subject and verb/verbs are in the main skeleton and which are in the clause.


Let's look at that problem from the reader's point of view.  There's confusion - - and that's also why you have a question.

The reader doesn't know:
(1) whether =correlate= is a second verb working on =ceremony= and is therefore part of the main skeleton;
(2) whether =correlate= is a second verb working on the subject of the clause (=initiate=) and is therefore a part of the clause skeleton.

Skeletons showing these two possible placements of =correlate=:
Ceremony might signify [and] correlate  (first scenario)
initiate undertakes [and] correlate (second scenario)


So, which  is it?  


(1)  Suppose =correlate= is part of the main skeleton and is a second verb acting on =ceremony=.  This is the first scenario:  
Ceremony might signify [and] correlate

In this case, =correlate= is correct (no =S=).


If the second scenario (=correlate= is a second verb acting on =initiate=), the main skeleton remains what I said at the top of this answer:
Ceremony might signify

In the second scenario, therefore =correlate= is part of the clause.  The subject of the clause is =initiate=.  Therefore, it is =correlates= (with an =S=).

         ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~

The sentence is unclear, however.  

If what you wish to say is the first scenario and that =correlate= goes with =ceremony=, help the reader by inserting =might= in front of =correlate=.  

It is then clear that =correlate= is the second verb acting on =ceremony= because it's a parallel construction using =might=.  

The complete main skeleton for the first scenario is:
Ceremony might signify [and] might correlate


In the first scenario, the skeleton of the clause has the third verb:
initiate undertakes


The complete skeleton of the entire sentence + the clause is:
Ceremony might signify [and] might correlate - initiate undertakes


(2)  Now, suppose =correlate= is a verb that belongs in the clause and is the second verb working on =initiate=.  This is the second scenario.  

When =correlate= is part of the clause, its skeleton is:
Initiate undertakes [and] correlates

Note that =correlate= is now =correlates= because =initiate= is singular.  

         ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~

I believe what you mean is the second scenario.

I'd like to suggest that you switch the sentence around and put =ceremony= in a phrase to introduce the sentence: =In the initiation ceremony...=.  

The subject and verb from the old clause are now the subject and verb of the new sentence.  =Correlate= is where it belongs as the second verb acting on the subject.  Skeleton:
[In the initiation ceremony] initiate undertakes [and] correlates

Your complete newly-clarified sentence is:
In the initiation ceremony, the initiate undertakes new duties and correlates them with the traditions and customs of the tribe.

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Martha Beth Lewis


I will answer questions having to do with grammar, plurals, punctuation, capitalization, mood, person, tense, and so on, as well as word usage and word choice. If you want a quick answer to a specific question, particularly if you wish to use formal American English for business or academic purposes (MLA), I can give you a timely response. I also can address word choice, clarity, structure, and similar concerns involving English as a second language. If you want advice of a deeper editorial nature (e.g., substantive [line] editing), please consult an Expert who offers this sort of assistance; I do not offer this sort of assistance.


I was employed as an editor for the graduate school at a major U.S. university and specialized in dissertations. I have over 200 publications in professional journals, consumer magazines, and newspapers. I am the author of five books and numerous syllabi in an arts field. I also am a freelance line editor, copy editor, and proofreader (over 40 years), and I have written or edited countless community organizations' newsletters and promotional materials.

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