Is “Number” Singular or Plural?
In one of my posts, I found I had written “There is a significant number of sources…”. When reading it back to myself, I kept wanting to change the “is” to “are”, but I think the way I have it is actually more grammatically correct, even though it sounds odd to my ears. Am I right in thinking that I wrote it correctly the first time?
The noun number by itself is singular:
The number on his jersey is 88.
The number of unemployed has risen.
However, the phrase a number of calls for a plural verb:
A number of protesters were arrested.
There are a significant number of sources.
Tony’s experience is an example of what linguist Noam Chomsky meant when he argued that
the intuition of a native speaker is enough to define the grammaticalness of a sentence; that is, if a particular string of English words elicits a double take, or feeling of wrongness in a native English speaker, it can be said that the string of words is ungrammatical (when various extraneous factors affecting intuitions are controlled for).
Obviously among the “various extraneous factors” must be included sufficient exposure to standard English usage in speech and writing.
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