The humanities has

In a darkish piece on Wednesday on the role of the humanities in higher education these days — enrollments declining from 1966 through 1996, institutions cutting back on courses and faculty recently — the NYT (p. C7) quoted Derek Bok, “a former president of Harvard and the author of several books on higher education”:

The humanities has a lot to contribute to the preparation of students for their vocational lives.

I’ve bold-faced the notable point, the humanities (formally marked as a plural) with singular verb agreement (has).

The world of plural marking is full of surprises: zero-marked plurals (“The two croissant were delicious”), s-marked plurals whose referents are (arguably) singular (“The eaves are full of pine needles”), s-marked forms that can serve as singulars (We are at a crossroads”), and more. Bok’s example — if it is quoted correctly, which I don’t concede — is an instance of the crossroads sort; the United States (now treated as singular) is a notable example of this sort, and there are others.

I don’t want to come down too hard on Derek Bok, since the NYT might well have misquoted him, or flubbed in editing, but this does look like another case of a formally plural expression moving to being treated as a singular in grammar.

3 Responses to “The humanities has”

  1. jlundell Says:

    Under the influence of “mathematics”, perhaps.

  2. SDT Says:

    In the world of insurance and law, “Underwriters” is a short-form expression that often refers to the individuals and entities in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market that enter into insurance contracts as insurers with insureds. Although the Underwriters subscribing to a policy are actually a collection, they act and function in many ways as single entity, like a regular insurance company and some people use “Underwriters” as a singular expression. I prefer to use it as a plural expression, both for pronoun and verb agreement, but there is no consistent practice, at least in the US.

  3. Singular humanities (round 2) « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Says:

    […] in it — with the humanities (formally plural) treated as grammatically singular. In a posting here, I related this to some other (at least roughly) similar cases, among them singular crossroads […]

Leave a Reply to Singular humanities (round 2) « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog Cancel reply

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