Proximity Agreement in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Proximity Agreement
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In applying the principle of subject-verb agreement (or concord), proximity agreement is the practice of relying on the noun that is closest to the verb to determine whether the verb is singular or plural. Also known as the principle of proximity (or attraction), agreement by proximity, attraction, and blind agreement. As noted in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985), "Conflict between grammatical concord and attraction through proximity tends to increase with the distance between the noun phrase head of the subject and the verb."

Examples of Proximity Agreement 

  • "Sometimes syntax itself makes it impossible to follow the agreement rule. In a sentence like Either John or his brothers are bringing the dessert, the verb can't agree with both parts of the subject. Some people believe that the verb should agree with the closer of the two subjects. This is called agreement by proximity."
    (The American Heritage Book of English Usage. Houghton Mifflin, 1996
  • "In addition to grammatical concord and notional concord, the principle of proximity sometimes plays a part in subject-verb agreement. This principle is the tendency, especially in speech, for the verb to agree with the closest (pro)noun, even when that (pro)noun is not the head of the subject noun phrase. For example:
    Do you think [any of them] are bad Claire? (CONV)
    [Not one of the people who's auditioned] were up to par. (FICT)" (Douglas Biber et al. Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Pearson, 2002)
  • "Don't take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say 'More than one passenger was hurt,' although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!"
    (C.S. Lewis, letter to Joan, June 26, 1956. C. S. Lewis' Letters to Children, ed. by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead. Touchstone, 1995)
  • "Grammarians have also observed that certain constructions 'sound right' to educated native speakers of English, even though the constructions defy formal or notional agreement. Such expressions exemplify the principle of attraction (or proximity), under which the verb tends to take the form of the closest subject: For those who attended the second day of the annual meeting, there was an early morning panel and afternoon workshops. But as [Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage] cautions, 'Proximity agreement may pass in speech and other forms of unplanned discourse; in print it will be considered an error.'"
    (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor's Handbook. Univ. of California Press, 2006)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Proximity Agreement in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Proximity Agreement in Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Proximity Agreement in Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).