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Singular vs. plural

Posted by R. Berg on March 04, 2002

In Reply to: Re: NY Times Blooper? posted by TheFallen on March 04, 2002

: : : : "Another Round of Layoffs Are Planned at
: : : : First Boston"

: : : : "Round" is singular, no?
: : : : So it should read:
: : : : "Another Round of Layoffs IS Planned at
: : : : First Boston."

: : : : The original is below.

: : :
: : : I would agree, but there does seem to be a collective form where a singular noun takes a plural verb, as in "a lot of people are present". I don't believe it is right to say "... is present" in this case, but I am clear on what the difference is.

: :
: : ----- er... not clear, I meant! psi

: :
: : : Does anyone have any ideas?

: : : psi

: Hmmm. I am not sure if this is a hard and fast grammatical rule, but it does seem to be true that when a singular but non-specific collective noun is the subject of the sentence, then a plural verb form simply sounds better. Examples...

: A lot of people have arrived...
: A number of sources have stated...
: A couple of people have stayed...
: A half of those surveyed have said...
: None of the children have left... (I am uneasy with this one, and feel it *must* strictly speaking be "has", though colloquially, it's a different gether altomatter)

This is a reliable guideline, at least for U.S. usage: "'A' plus 'number'" takes a plural verb; "the' plus 'number'" takes a singular verb. So "A number of sources have stated . . . ," and "The number of sources the reporter quoted was four."

Sometimes the number of the verb depends on whether the subject-noun means something unitary or something multiple. "The couple is buying a house." "The couple are not getting along."

American Heritage Dict.: "'None' (pronoun) may take a singular verb or a plural one, according to 68 per cent of the Usage Panel. They specify a singular verb when 'none' can logically be construed as singular (when 'not one' or 'no one' can be substituted for 'none'): 'None of us wholly blameless.' . . . A plural verb should be used when 'none' applies to more than one (when 'no persons, not any of a group of persons or things' can be substituted for 'none'): 'None are more wretched than victims of natural disasters.' When 'none' can be logically construed as either singular or plural, either a singular or plural verb is possible: 'None of these books is' (or 'are') 'really helpful.' In every case the verb and related personal pronouns and pronominal adjectives must agree in number: 'none has his' (or 'none have theirs'). According to 28 per cent of the Panel, 'none' must always take a singular verb."