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Tanya TruslerOctober 4, 2012


Help students figure out the correct subject–verb agreement for these confusing expressions!

A few weeks ago, someone emailed us at ESLLibrary to ask if the grammar on our home page was correct. In the featured lesson about protests in the Middle East, this sentence caused some confusion: “Over the past few years, there have been a growing number of both peaceful & violent protests.” The person wanted khổng lồ know if “…there have been a growing number of…” was correct. Shouldn’t it be “…there has been a growing number of…”?

This is a question that commonly confuses our students! The problem is that the subject–verb agreement is different for the expressions “a number of” and “the number of.” Here’s how I usually explain it to mystudents:

1. “A number of” takes a pluralverb

Tell your students to think of it this way: a number of means many. Becaus “many + plural noun” takes a plural verb, you would say “Many cars are on the freeway during rush hour.” Likewise, you would say “A number of cars are on the freeway during rushhour.”

The important thing khổng lồ remember is that this expressions is acting like a quantifier. So even though it involves a singular noun “number,” it is serving the same role in the sentence as a quantifier such as “many,” “a lot of,” “lots of,” “hundreds of,” etc. You would say “A number of people have started the test” just lượt thích you would say “A lot of people have started thetest.”

2. “The number of” takes a singularverb

Here’s where it gets even more confusing. In English, “the number of” doesn’t mean “many.” Tell your students lớn think of it as one number. So even though that number might be large, the purpose of this expression is lớn compare this one number/amount with another number/amount. For example, we would say “The number of crimes in thành phố new york has increased this year.” There might be 56 more crimes committed this year compared lớn last year. Another example is “The number of people who are writing the thử nghiệm today is larger than yesterday.” There might be 20 more people writing the testtoday.

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For more practice, see if your students can pick out these expressions on the internet, in newspapers, or in magazines. Also, this is a very common grammar question in Part5 of the TOEIC test, so make sure that any students you have who are preparing to lớn write this kiểm tra memorize the correct subject-verb agreement for theseexpressions.

I hope that clears things up for you and your students! I hope that the number of questions they have about these expressions is nowzero.:)



“The number of x” takes a singular verb; “a number of x,” a plural verb.” (Einsohn, A., The Copyeditor’s Handbook, p.344)

Examples in Use

“Even in regular prose, a number of expressions are almost always abbreviated and may be used without first spelling them out.” (The Chicago Manual of Style, 16thed., p.488)

“The article that precedes the mass noun signals whether the mass noun or the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls the number of the verb.” (The Chicago Manual of Style, 16thed., p.205)