A big thank you for your the best help but unfortunatly I am too confused about this sentence that is writen in the dictionary of cambridge or somewhere..

sentence:A large number of invitations HAS been sent.

but on the other hand I have seen this:A small number of children ARE educated at home.

Of course I really know that after (a large number of...) normally we must use a plural verb but in that sentence in the cambridge dictionary It is used HAS !!!!!why they do not used HAVE??????

asked Feb 17 '13 at 19:18 Mohamad Meamar New member

3 answers


This issue -- whether number of is singular or plural -- is the subject of debate. I turned to Garner's Modern American Usage (3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2009) for help.


Garner's, which devotes a full page to the topic (at page 578), begins by saying "pendants" insist on applying the general rule whereby number is singular and so the verb must also be singular -- has. Garner's goes on to tell us that number of -- like several other formulations -- is an exception to the general rule. It follows the principle known as synesis, which allows some constructions to control properties such as number according to their meaning rather than strict syntactical rules. Thus, a number of invitations have ...


Garner's reminds us that when the phrase is used with the definitive article -- the number of children -- everything changes. Now instead of talking about multiple things, we are talking about the number itself, which is singular. The number of children in school has not changed in five years.


I hope this helps.

link comment answered Feb 17 '13 at 19:40 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Responding here to Shawn's comment as the comment field is too limiting.


Shawn, I think we agree, but we also may be talking about two different rules. The first general rule -- at least in American English -- is that in this construction -- quantifier + noun ... verb -- the verb agrees with the noun and not the quantifier. In this, we both seem to be saying the same thing.


The second rule involves this construction -- quantifier/determiner + of + noun ... verb -- the verb follows the number of the quantifier/determiner. So any of is singular while both of is generally plural. 


The exception to this second general rule is called synesis, and there are many exceptions that follow synesis rather than the general rules. Shawn's example partially illustrates the concept of synesis in that some (and some of) can be either singular or plural and always takes on the number of the noun that follows. A true example of synesis is the number of invitations question that started this thread.


Unfortunately, I do not know of any rule that tells you when the exception applies. It seems to be one of those things that you can only learn through experience.

link comment answered Feb 18 '13 at 21:16 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

This is in response to Shawn's second answer.  I realize now that I have not properly expressed what we've been caling the second rule. I've also not expressed my thoughts wel or correctly.


The second rule is, in fact, the basic rule of subject-verb number agreement. That is, in most cases, the verb number is determined by the number of the subject. So ...


One needs to work hard.  In this sentence, one is the subject and is singular. Often, however, a prepositional phrase is introduced between the subject and the verb. And sometimes, the object of the prepositional phase is plural. One of the boys needs to attend summer school. Does the plural object change the number of the verb? The general rule says no.


In the original sentence -- A large number of invitations have been sent -- "number" is the subject. My Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary tells me that number is a singular collective noun. Following the normal rule, the verb should also be singular -- has. But the phrase "number of" is a special form. And this -- synesis -- is what I was trying (inelegantly) to express. Under the concept of synesis, some phrases call for the verb to agree with the object of the prepositional phrase and not the subject that preceeds the phrase.


I hope I have made better sense here.

link comment answered Feb 20 '13 at 04:56 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

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