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October 7, 1992

Grammar School: Teat Found for Motherless Clause?

Author Affiliations

Montefiore Medical Center Bronx, NY

JAMA. 1992;268(13):1685. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490130073029

To the Editor.  —The only thing more insufferable than a pedant is an incorrect pedant. In his attempt to correct Robert A. Day's review of Dr King's book on expository writing,1 Dr Goldblatt makes the error of considering the prepositional phrase as the subject in the following sentence: "Very is one of the words that contributes to flabby writing."2 He erroneously concludes that the antecedent of "that" is "words," thereby requiring the plural verb "contribute." However, the subject of the sentence determines the form of the verb, and in this case the subject is the word "very," not "words," which is the object of the prepositional phrase describing "one."When I learned grammar in high school, we were taught that one could eliminate or ignore a prepositional phrase without changing the meaning of a sentence in order to reveal its basic structure. Thus, the sentence becomes: "Very is