Thursday, October 21, 2010

"the number" vs. "a number"

This morning, I had these reversed. The number takes a singular verb; a number takes a plural verb. Here are a few examples:

The number of consumer complaints about our products is decreasing" (p. 198 of our textbook).
The number of commitments we have prevents us from accepting your kind invitation.
The number of persons being treated at the clinic sometimes prevents us from completing our billing on time.
A number of people were at the craft fair.
A number of résumés were received at the office today.

1 comment:

Tisha said...

Thank you, Pat!

I went looking to see if I could find out how to look things like this up, and in the process I learned that "number" is a mass noun and that words like "quantity" and "percentage" are handled the same way: "the quantity of pizzas has increased" and "a small percentage of the test takers have failed."

It's confusing because it seems counterintuitive for "a" to take a plural verb.