Number is/are

Subject: Number is/are
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 13:36:38 -0600

Sue Heim asked for help with <<more may be required if a
high number of records is/are retrieved>>.

Don't feel bad, Sue... this one confounds editors all the
time. (We've beaten the question to death many times on
CEL.) The answer is that both are correct: "a high number
is" works because "is" and "_a_ number" are both singular,
but "a high number are" also works because of something
called "notional accord" (i.e., the meaning of "a high
number" is inherently plural).

The best solution of all is to simply say "if _many_
records are". Any time you see an adjective (_hihg_
number), it's a good hint that there's a shorter way to say
things. "Many" is shorter and clearer (shouldn't that be "a
large number"?), and (bonus!) it entirely avoids the
grammatical issue you raised.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.


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