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The Number vs. A Number

The expression the number is followed by a singular verb while the expression a number is followed by a plural verb.

Examples:

The number of people we need to hire is thirteen.

A number of people have written in about this subject.

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct word in each sentence.

1. The number of people lined up for tickets was/were four hundred.

2. A number of suggestions was/were made.

3. There is/are a number of important announcements in the bulletin.

4. Here is/are the number of milk shakes you requested.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The number of people lined up for tickets was four hundred.

2. A number of suggestions were made.

3. There are a number of important announcements in the bulletin.

4. Here is the number of milk shakes you requested.

Posted on Thursday, December 9, 2010, at 9:01 am


44 Comments

44 Responses to “The Number vs. A Number”

  1. sherlyn says:

    Its great that you have published such knowledge. I just hope these are all reliable. It would be better if you also include in your page the references that you are using. Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      We have derived and refined our rules over the years from many textbooks on grammar and punctuation and have kept up with the evolving changes to the English language by consulting authoritative reference works such as The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. Including references for every rule would detract from the intent of presenting rules and examples in a simple, easy to understand, and tempting to use format.

  2. masudsaifurs says:

    Thanks Jane.

  3. Tanish goel says:

    Hi, You’re doing a very good work by writing these useful articles. Can you tell me out of these two sentences, ” it’s me” and “its i” , which is a correct one? Do we use “me” or “i” in these kind of sentences?

    Thanks

    • Jane says:

      Our blog “I vs. Me” addresses this question. The rule says, “Use a subject pronoun following state of being verbs such as am, are, is, was, were.” However, the blog also notes the important distinction between spoken and written language. The formal, written response would be, “It is I.” However when spoken informally, one would be more likely to say, “It’s me.”

  4. Alexandra says:

    Hello everyone!!
    This is my sentece:
    I decided to interview my mentor Maria Davis, R.D.H., M.S., who is one of the full-time tenured faculty members at Lake Washington Institute of Technology.

    Questions:

    Do I capitalized her professional tittle?
    Is it one of the faculty member or members?

    Please help,
    Alexandra

    • Jane says:

      The abbreviated title is capitalized, however, Chicago Manual of Style recommends omitting periods in abbreviations that appear in full capitals. Your use of members is correct.

      I decided to interview my mentor Maria Davis, RDH, MS, who is one of the full-time tenured faculty members at Lake Washington Institute of Technology

  5. Kelly Eastmead says:

    Dear Jane,

    I cannot find formal rules on the following capitalization dilemma:
    Once you have defined something in a paper, letter, etc., do you then capitalize it? Many have said yes. Here are a couple of examples:
    “On March 15, 2008, my husband and I attended a planning meeting for our child’s upcoming school year. The Meeting focused on our son’s supplemental services….
    (here is where I am uncertain. Should “Meeting be capped from the definition of it forward?) Just as when you name a university in a correspondence, is then referred to as “the University?” Really appreciate your clarification on this. Thanks, Kelly

    • Jane says:

      Our blog “Capitalization of Governmental Words” addresses this dilemma. The rule says, “When you refer back to a proper noun using a shortened version of the original name, you may capitalize it.” Since your planning meeting is not a proper noun, do not capitalize it like you would “the University” when referring to the University of Wisconsin, for instance.

  6. Eva says:

    Hi Jane,

    I just found your helpful website. I have one question regarding the usage of ‘Any’. For example, do I need to use ‘if there is any + Singular noun’ of ‘if there are any plural nouns”? Please advise.

    In addition, here is the sentence: I am pleased to advise that the Director of Human Resources Department is XXXX. Is the capitalization used in this sentences correct?

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      Yes, with a singular noun use if there is any and with plural nouns use if there are any. Names of departments are capitalized, but job titles are not when the word the appears in front of the job title.

      I am pleased to advise that the director of the Human Resources Department is XXXX.

  7. yanis says:

    Hi,
    Please give an example without an article, such as, “Number of people … .”

    • Jane says:

      The only thing I can think of is when statistics are listed. For example:

      Here’s what we learned about Smallville from the last census:
      Number of people living within the city limits: 12,679
      Number of males: 6,668
      Number of females: 6,011
      etc.

  8. jim says:

    is it Pragmatic or Semantic use of the pluralized noun approvers that has me in the throws of a conundrum? Debating co-worker as to proper use with the following sentence as an example; ‘We need to update the system with new Approvers so future projects are not delayed because of approval limits. Once the Approvers limits are adjusted we can test our Approver’s patience.’What is right and what is wrong with usage?

    • Jane says:

      I will assume that earlier in your document you have defined the term or position Approvers which will justify capitalizing the term. Thereafter, simply follow the rules for applying apostrophes to plural possessives: make the noun plural then use the apostrophe. Therefore, your sentences would be:

      We need to update the system with new Approvers so future projects are not delayed because of approval limits. Once the Approvers’ limits are adjusted we can test our Approvers’ patience.

  9. Katie West says:

    Hi Jane.

    I knew this rule about the difference between “the number” and “a number,” but was wondering if it also applies to “a person” and “the person.”

    Maybe not, but I’m really stuck on a particular sentence and thought maybe this was the reason.

    “Another country can require that the person traveling to or through the country have a passport or visa.”

    I am 99% sure the verb should be HAVE but I can’t explain why, as the subject is singular. I’ve been told it may have something to do with the verb mood, being in this case imperative, I think?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    -Katie West

    • Jane says:

      The sentence is an example of the subjunctive mode. The subjunctive mode pairs singular subjects with what we usually think of as plural verbs. The subjunctive is often used in “that” and “if” clauses in sentences that express a wish, request, recommendation, or suggestion. Therfore, the verb have is correct.

  10. Flakky says:

    Hi Jane,
    I once read that when there are more than one noun as subject in a sentence, the nearest to the predicator determines d verb to be used.
    E.g;
    Sade, Olu and I am going to the party.
    Is this really correct?

    • Jane says:

      That is not correct. If the subject is singular, the verb is singular. If there is a plural subject, the verb is plural. In your example, there are three subjects. Therefore, the verb is plural.

      Sade, Olu, and I are going to the party.

  11. Mehdi says:

    Great articles, thank you soooo much :)

  12. Garrett says:

    Hi there
    I have a question about the difference between “the number of” and “the numbers of”.Could you provide some examples?

    Thanks a lot

    • Jane says:

      In most general cases, the singular word number is used with the word of. Examples:

      The number of people who attended the conference was surprising .
      The number of hot dogs he ate in five minutes was astounding!
      The number of students who applied for the scholarship was three.

      When specific numbers are being compared or listed, the word numbers can be used. Examples:

      The numbers of hot dogs and hamburgers sold in the ball park increased today over yesterday from 500 to 600 and 550 to 650, respectively.
      The numbers of the players who are running backs on this team are 22, 28, 38, and 42.

  13. Melanie says:

    Hi Jane,

    I was wondering if there were any exceptions to this “a” vs. “the” rule? And, does it only apply to “number”? Thanks!!!

  14. Sandile says:

    Hi m stuck on how do we use three articles (the,a,an) in sentence. I don’t knw when to use them correctly. Please help me out

    • Jane says:

      The word the is used to indicate a definite noun. A and an are used to indicate an indefinite or nonspecific noun. A is used before a word that begins with a consonant and an is used before a word that begins with a vowel. Examples:

      the continent of Australia
      the Atlantic Ocean
      a continent
      an ocean

  15. Suhana says:

    Hi,

    Please let me know if the following sentence is correct :

    The average number of books owned by the students was 0.66 in 2010, and this figure increased to 0.87 in the following year.

  16. yadu says:

    hi!
    what is the answer of the sentence below? could you help me?
    thanks in advance!

    “He threatened his friend with calling the police if he ——————— the money by the following week.

    didn’t return- wouldn’t return-haven’t returned -hadn’t returned- wouldnt have returned?

    which one is correct and why?

    • Jane says:

      The if clause in your sentence requires the past tense. The past tense of return would call for if he returned or, in this case, its negative form, if he didn’t return.

  17. Kip says:

    Good advice.
    I have a question about units with numbers. Which sentence is correct?

    The observer shall be at least 15 feet, but not more than 0.25 miles, away from each stationary vent during the observation. Or.

    The observer shall be at least 15 feet, but not more than 0.25 mile, away from each stationary vent during the observation.

    • Jane says:

      The first one is correct. However, for simplicity’s sake, we would recommend a quarter-mile, a fourth of a mile, or a quarter of a mile over “0.25 miles.”

  18. apol says:

    Hi I’d like to ask because I’m a bit confuse. is this correct? “She and her baby is alive?” is it supposed to be are since it’s talking about two persons? If this statement is correct…why kindly explain to me please? Thanks

    • Jane says:

      Since there are two subjects, she and baby, you need the plural verb are.
      She and her baby are alive.

      • jasper says:

        good morning miss jane, i have some questions and verification if this statement is in correct grammar.

        1.On or about 200800H November 2013, two (2) personnel of this unit were dispatched to act as Reaction Force: one for dano mines and other one for PF.

        2 On or about 200800H November 2013,four (4) kinglong buses were dispatched to CA and PA to regular shuttle services for personnel….

        • Jane says:

          We assume that your questions relate to your job in the military. We are not experts in military time, jargon, abbreviations, etc., so we will do our best to respond only to the logic and flow of a grammatically correct sentence. Regarding each sentence, there seems to be no point to stating the time exactly to what we interpret to be seconds, yet omitting the day of the month. We recommend:

          On or about 200800H on November 4, 2013, two (2) personnel from this unit were dispatched to act as Reaction Force: one for dano mines and the other one for PF.
          On or about 200800H on November 4, 2013, four (4) kinglong buses were dispatched to CA and PA to provide regular shuttle services for personnel.

  19. MyKey says:

    There are inaccuracies in this article. Whether it’s “a” or “the”, the correct word is “is”, since you’re referring to a single number. For example, “There are a number of important announcements in the bulletin.” is inccorect since you’re referring to a number (not numbers) so it should read: “There IS a number of important announcements in the bulletin.”

    • Jane says:

      The expression “a number” is a singular noun when it refers to an arithmetical value. An example is “Think of a number from one to ten.” The phrase “a number of” is similar to words indicating portions, like some. With words that indicate portions, the rule that a subject will come before a phrase beginning with of is reversed. “A number of” will take a plural verb because the object of the preposition (the word that follows of) will be plural.

  20. David says:

    I have a situation where a paragraph is constructed using lowercase roman numerals along with the word “or”. The paragraph goes something like this: “… rent will be calculated for any increase in (i) fixed sub-tenent rent or (ii) percentage rent.”
    Is this particular use of lowercase roman numerals creating a list of conditions that apply meaning that rent should be calculated using “either one” or “both” conditions if they exist? Or does it mean that rent will be calculated if either condition exists but not both?
    I can’t find a description of this use of lowercase roman numerals in any elements of style guide.

    Can someone please help?

    • Your sentence sounds like an excerpt from a legal document. We recommend consulting either The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, published by the Harvard Law Review Association or the ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation, prepared and published by the Association of Legal Writing Directors and Darby Dickerson.

  21. Emily G says:

    Which is correct for a survey title;
    Number of Countries Third Graders Have Visited
    OR
    Number of Countries Third Graders Has Visited

    Thanks

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