# Thread: a total of 38 summonses was/were

1. ## a total of 38 summonses was/were

A total of 38 summonses was/were issued by the traffic police last week.

In the above exercise, the answer given was ‘were’. I thought both work: ‘A total’ goes with ‘was’ or ‘summonses’ goes with ‘were’.
I’m in a dilemma.

Thank you for teaching me.

2. ## Re: a total of 38 summonses was/were

No, no one would say 'was'. You could say, "A handful of summonses was ..."
Your sentence is taken to mean "38 summonses were ..."

3. ## Re: a total of 38 summonses was/were

In sentences such as, I'm often confused as to when the verb should agree with the subject itself or what seems like a collective noun (that appears before 'of').

In 'A total of 38 summonses', I thought 'a total' is equivalent to a total number of something, which looks to me like a collective noun of sorts.

How can I know for sure, when the verb should agree with the subject itself or that which appears like a collective noun (like a bouquet of flowers)?

Thank you!

4. ## Re: a total of 38 summonses was/were

You can't know for sure - though there is a logical difference between a "bouquet of something" and a "total of some number" in the meaning of 'of'. In the number example, the number is the total. In the bouquet of flowers, the flowers aren't strictly the bouquet.

In this construction, the natural way of speaking depends on the context and the semantics of the phrase. "Rules" can help, but they don't override what standard native speakers say. In rare cases, either 'was' or 'were' would pass unnoticed.

5. ## Re: a total of 38 summonses was/were

It is a complex area and sometimes we don't always do what is mathematically logical, and may make our choices on proximity - the word nearest the verb - or even sound, and not all variants handle things the same way.

6. ## Re: a total of 38 summonses was/were

Originally Posted by Raymott
"Rules" can help, but they don't override what standard native speakers say.
There is also the point that, for grammarians these days, 'rules' are observations on what appears to be generally accepted by most native speakers of standard varieties of the language.

7. ## Re: a total of 38 summonses was/were

A total of 38 summonses was/were issued by the traffic police last week.

"Total" is one of a few 'number-transparent' nouns where the number of the noun in the of-phrase complement determines the number of the whole noun phrase.

That noun here is "summonses" - clearly plural - so the number of the whole noun phrase is also plural, meaning that the verb must be plural "were".

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