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Thread: verb agreement

  1. #1
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    Default verb agreement

    Should I use "is" or "are" following a quantifier such as "a bunch of" "a host of", "an army of"....

    Should the verb go with the noun, or the quantifier "a bunch of", "a host of
    Is or Are?
    E.g.
    A bunch of us are/is going to the movies.
    An army of civil servants are/is demonstrating outside the legislature.
    A sea of faces are/is staring back at me.

    Or can I make the rationale that when I consider them as a collective, I use the singular; when I consider them as individuals, I use the plural.

    I guess when it is an uncount noun, it is automatically singular: A mountain of equipment is waiting to be delivered. (That I have no trouble with. It is when the noun is countable that I am unsure of.)

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: verb agreement

    The answer is, either a singular verb or a plural verb. It depends on what word within the phrase functions as the subject.

    EX: A bunch of the boys were swimming in the lake.

    Now, was it the "bunch" that was swimming or the "boys" that were swimming?

    EX: This bunch of bananas is expensive.

    Is it "bananas" that are expensive or just "this bunch"?

    [1] A bunch of us are going to the movies.
    Cf. The bunch (of us) is going to the movies.

    Here "The bunch" functions as a substantive noun. We can omit "of us" without changing the sentence's meaning. But we can't do it here:

    EX: ?A bunch is going to the movies. (odd)

    The reason it's odd, "A" is an indefinite article. As a subject, the phrase needs specification, like "This bunch is going."

    [2] An army of civil servants are demonstrating outside the legislature.
    => The civil servants are demonstrating.
    Cf. An army (of civil servants) is demonstrating.
    => The army is demonstarting.

    Use a singular verb if you want to place focus on the collective noun (e.g., army, bunch, etc) and use a plural noun if you want to place focus on the other noun (e.g., us, civil servants).

    When in doubt, replace the phrase with a singular or plural pronoun, like this,

    EX: A bunch of boys_______swimming
    => They were swimming.
    => ?It was swimming. (odd)

    EX: This bunch of bananas ______ expensive.
    => ?They are expensive. (odd; "this bunch" is singular)
    => It is expensive.

    EX: A sea of faces _____staring back at me.
    => It is staring back at me. (What do you think?)
    => They are staring back at me. (What do you think?)

    All the best.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: verb agreement

    Thank you. That was very detailed indeed.

    Let's see if I get that right.

    "An army of civil servants is marching up the street" would be correct if I am putting the emphasis on the civil servants as a group; "an army of civil servants" would be the subject, instead of "civil servants". Is that correct?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: verb agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by zigzag
    Thank you. That was very detailed indeed.

    Let's see if I get that right.

    "An army of civil servants is marching up the street" would be correct if I am putting the emphasis on the civil servants as a group; "an army of civil servants" would be the subject, instead of "civil servants". Is that correct?
    Right. But "of civil servants" functions as the subject's modifier. It further defines "An army".

    [1]
    Subject: An army is marching.
    Subject: An army (of civil servants) is marching.
    => The "army" is defined as consisting of "civil servants". That is, the noun "civil servants" adds to or further defines the subject "An army". In other words,

    EX: An army (which by the way is made up of civil servants) is marching.

    [2]
    Subject: Civil servants are marching.
    Subject: An army of civil servants are marching.
    => "civil servants" is defined as "an army". "an army" adds to or further defines "civil servants". In other words,

    EX: Civil servants (which by the way are in the form of an army) are marching.

    All the best.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: verb agreement

    Thank you once again.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: verb agreement

    You're welcome.

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