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Usage of "%"

I'm almost positive it's a prepositional phrase since it's really means "per cent" or "per 100".

So in a sentence like:

90% of my street are doing lawn work.

It would be "are" and not "is" because both "%" and "of my street" are prepositional phrases and therefore cannot contain the subject.

Am I right?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Like a lot of, something like 90% of functions not so much as a preposition as it does a premodifier. And premodifiers work like adjectives. They do not change the head noun, which remains the grammatical subject and still must be agree with the verb in number.

  • People are coming.
    Trouble is avoided.
  • A lot of people are coming.
    A lot of trouble is avoided.
  • Ninety percent of the people are coming.
    Ninety percent of the trouble is avoided.
  • One percent of the people are coming.
    One percent of the trouble is avoided.

As you see, you can remove the leading a lot of or the X% of, and nothing changes. Like adjectives, these premodifiers do not change the grammatical subject or influence the verb. The head noun does not change.

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Thanks. That clears it up well actually. I was looking at it too technically I suppose. – Brandon May 4 '13 at 20:36
@Brandon Or perhaps not technically enough. Blindly applying so-called rules to language doesn’t work when those rules are just a simplified version of reality; these are not laws. What people call rules are derived from trying to describe how language happens to work, not how it is supposed to work. – tchrist May 5 '13 at 2:38

Grammar Girl says that it depends on the object of the preposition.

About 90% of my neighbors are doing lawn work. (plural)

About 90% of the population has filed their taxes. (singular)

(Incidentally, several sources think it's better start a sentence with something other than a numeral; this is why I started the examples with "About.")

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This is helpful but doesn't really answer the question at hand; it only clarifies on how to improve the sentence, which I agree with you on. – Brandon May 4 '13 at 20:38
I assume that you're implying that 'neighbours' etc, being plural in form, triggers a plural verb-form, whereas population, being singular in form, requires a singular verb-form. In the UK, 'notional concord' or 'logical agreement' (synesis) would normally apply - about 90% of a population means say 34 453 782 people, so 'are doing' and 'have filed' would be chosen here. – Edwin Ashworth May 4 '13 at 21:06
Thank you, Edwin. Yes, you are observing my US sensibilities as to subject-verb agreement. I might substitute "About 90% of the zebras are..." and "About 90% of the question is..." to work on both sides of the pond. – rajah9 May 4 '13 at 21:23
Collectives may take either a plural or a singular noun according to whether they are considered one thing (of which there are many parts) or many things (which are alike in kind). Also, as was pointed out in the original question, the % sign is short hand for the propositional phrase "per one hundred." But such a prepositional phrase has no bearing on the number of the subject (and therefore the plurality of the verb), nor on any following prepositional phrase (such as the partitive genitive in this case). – Ben Mullikin May 5 '13 at 4:58

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