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“A total of 10 babies is sleeping.” v.s. “A total of 10 babies are sleeping.” v.s. “Ten babies in total are sleeping.”
Is “a total of 10 payments” singular or plural?

A total of 315 questionnaires was received from your area, and in particular the response to Question 10 was most positive.

Was / Were ?

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marked as duplicate by PLL, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, RegDwigнt Mar 25 '11 at 11:05

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A total (...) was received from (...) –  advs89 Mar 25 '11 at 2:58
    
That's: "A total <prepositional phrase acting as an adjective modifying 'total'> was received." –  advs89 Mar 25 '11 at 3:00
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@advs89: actually, a lot of people on this page is wrong. A number of them is awfully wrong. A few of them misses the point completely. –  RegDwigнt Mar 25 '11 at 11:37

4 Answers 4

You can resolve two difficulties by rephrasing:

Not:

"a total of 315 questionnaires was received."

But

"We received a total of 315 questionnaires."

Gets rid of the awkward wording plus it gets rid of the passive voice.

-- pete

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NB In general there's no need to get rid of the passive voice (despite what many people seem to have taken from Strunk & White) - but I agree that in this case it is an improvement :) –  psmears Mar 24 '11 at 21:20
    
@psmears: Should we stop obsessing, à la S&W, over the passive voice? Maybe. I notice that White's writing is admired even to this day; he seldom uses the passive voice. Strunk preached (I think) that the active voice is much stronger than the passive. Gotta' give him that one. OT: Remember this? "How many orders of beef have you passed over the counter, girl with white arms, since I've been gone? How many times have you said, 'Gravy?'" I welcome corrections and emendations. –  Pete Wilson Mar 24 '11 at 22:13
    
Why "a total of?" Why not just "we received 315 questionnaires?" "a total of" is just superfluous, redundant, and -- yes! -- prolix :-) –  Pete Wilson Mar 25 '11 at 1:17

I agree with RiMMER: it's the singular total that the verb draws its tense from.

However it still sounds awkward. How about:

Three-hundred and fifteen questionnaires were received from your area, and in particular the response to Question 10 was most positive.

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the most positive or very positive or just positive since there is a particular there –  mplungjan Mar 24 '11 at 21:43
    
@mplungjan: I'd go with very myself. I was trying to leave it close to the original. –  Satanicpuppy Mar 24 '11 at 23:00
    
Sorry, but the verb does not draw its tense from the singular total. Read Jimi Oke's answer here. –  RegDwigнt Mar 25 '11 at 11:23

I believe it's a total (that) was received, even the indefinite article asks for a singular, so "a total of 315 questionnaires was received."

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Except that it's the questionnaires that were received and not the total. Questionnaires were received. A lot of questionnaires were received. A great many questionnaires were received. A number of questionnaires were received. A total of X questionnaires were received. –  RegDwigнt Mar 25 '11 at 11:19

Technically, the awkward version is correct, but it sounds funny anyway because of the proximity of "questionnaires" to "was." In spoken English you'd probably hear "were" as a result.

In such cases where the "correct" phrasing is clumsy and awkward, revise and reword accordingly. You have some good suggestions in the answers given above, e.g., "we received a total of..." etc. Avoid the passive voice unless there's some compelling reason to use it.

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