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Posted by R. Berg on June 02, 2003

In Reply to: Is/are posted by James Briggs on June 02, 2003

: : : Should we use "is" or "are" when we write "There ____ a considerable number of people..."? Thanks.

: : Are.

: : The number (of anything) is . . .
: : A number (of anything) are . . .

: Are you sure? We say:
: "There is a herd of cows", not "there are a herd of cows", likewise, "there is a considerable number of people"- the "number of people" being the thing that's being defined.
: However, common usage often (incorrectly) puts "are" where the word "number" is concerned. Of course, we would say "there are lots of people".
: Difficult!

One publisher I worked for gave the "the"/"a" rule in its style guide.

We say "A considerable number of people were present." Switching to the "there" construction merely inverts the subject and verb without changing the verb. So "There were a considerable number of people present." However, "The number of people present was fifty."