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Is it correct to say, "What kind of patents are being issued in these sophisticated times?" It seems like it should be What kind of patents is being issued..., but that sounds wrong. What kind of patent is being issued... is correct and sounds right, but loses a little bit of the original meaning.

Is there something magic about what kind that allows it to be plural, or do people just misuse it a lot?

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What kind of people are you talking about? –  TimLymington Oct 2 '11 at 9:57
    
A lot of patents are being issued. –  Peter Shor Oct 2 '11 at 13:59
    
Same problem, @TimLymington, and that definitely needs an "are". Maybe. –  xpda Oct 4 '11 at 4:20
    
It's an informal blog, so I opted for plural followed by a sentence fragment :) "What kind of patents are being issued in these sophisticated times? According to federal law, it has to be something novel and nontrivial. Like making a snowman." –  xpda Oct 4 '11 at 4:22

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Is kind of patents ever correct?

It’s a bit informal. Kind of (plural noun) is surprisingly uncommon in formal writing, fairly uncommon even in journalism, but common in speech and fiction:

She had the kind of eyes that followed you around the room. I’d thought that happened only with paintings… (fiction)

But I don't think it faces the kind of problems, say, a Los Angeles does. (spoken)

Those kind of games tend to be tiebreakers with teams that are alike. (spoken)

Does kind of patents take a singular or plural verb?

Plural, almost always. This is like how a lot of people is plural. No one says A lot of people is upset about it. So it’s what kind of patents are, not is.

Is this the kind of thing where whatever option I choose, it’s going to sound wrong to someone?

Yes.

Then is it best to just recast the sentence entirely?

That’s up to you. I probably would, unless the context was informal.

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I don't see any justification for saying Kind of (plural noun) is rare in formal writing. Google Books tells me there are 11,000 instances of kind of birth defects, and my guess would be virtually all of those would qualify as "formal writing" contexts. –  FumbleFingers Jul 23 '13 at 20:45
    
@FumbleFingers I was using COCA to search for occurrences. Google Books hit counts are unreliable. Clicking your link today showed “About 3,460 results” but there were actually only 12 results. –  Jason Orendorff Jul 24 '13 at 18:35
    
COCA contains 46 hits per million words for kind of (plural noun) in speech, 10 in newspapers, and 5 in academic writing. So it’s about 9x rarer in academic writing compared to everyday speech, over the past ten years. Contrast type of (plural noun) which occurs with about the same frequency (5 hits per million words) in academic writing as in speech. –  Jason Orendorff Jul 24 '13 at 18:44
    
@ Jason: I see you're quite right. I can't imagine how GB came to tell me there were 11,000 instances first time around. I always page down a couple of times to double-check because I know GB can make some terrible guestimates if the search term includes many common words. I'll leave my first comment there by way of a "personal online albatross", but I no longer endorse it. –  FumbleFingers Jul 24 '13 at 18:53

The problem is the word "patents." What you want is:

What kind of patent is being issued...

It is singular because you are talking about the kind in the singular. You could pluralize as:

What kinds of patent are being issued...

So the problem is that you pluralized patents; that is that part that sounds strange.

UPDATE: Based on Barrie's answer, I gave this a little more thought. I thought a little more analysis might be useful. The phrase "kind of patent" is a genitive structure, where "kind" is the noun, and "patent" is the restriction. To be clear, the basic purpose of the genitive is to place a restriction on the word to which it is applied. The word "patent" restricts "kind". There are many "kinds" in the world, but the only "kind" we are interested in are ones that pertain to patents.

Since "patent" is not the subject of the sentence, merely a qualifier on the actual subject, then it does not affect the verb conjugation for number. However, for the same reason, it is probably the case that it can be either plural or singular. It doesn't really matter in a sense. In one case we are treating it as an uncountable, an abstract, and in the other as a countable, a concrete. A person who writes patents could be called a "Patent lawyer", but that doesn't mean he only deals with a single patent. I suppose he could also be called a "patents lawyer", but that is not the idiom. I think the same applies in this case.

However, in this specific case, because of the proximity of the genitive to the verb, it makes for a little confusion, and so, unless there is a good reason to the contrary, a singular seems the optimum choice here.

To me, in the second case "what kinds of patent(s) are..." the proximity of the singular to the plural verb is less of a clash, but I recognize that views may differ on this.

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I prefer patents because there are a lot of patents being issued. "What kinds of patent" is not semantically correct, because there should be more than one patent for more than one kind of patent. –  xpda Oct 2 '11 at 1:19
    
+1 I think "what kinds of patents" is good; "what types of patents" would do just as well. –  onomatomaniak Oct 2 '11 at 6:38
    
There's a difference in meaning here which you're overlooking. If everybody in a patent law firm is a specialist, you could ask one of their lawyers "What kind of patents is your specialty?", not "What kinds." And "kind of patents" is perfectly fine, because he works on more than one patent. –  Peter Shor Oct 2 '11 at 14:26
    
I added an update based on comments and other answers. –  Fraser Orr Oct 2 '11 at 17:00
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@Fraser Orr, sometimes a qualifier (rather, the object of the preposition) does affect the number of the subject and therefore subject-verb agreement: A lot of turnips are… vs. A lot of cotton is…. –  Jason Orendorff Oct 3 '11 at 19:09

Pam Peters examines this topic in some detail in ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’. She considers the following two sentences:

These kinds of problem are to be avoided.

These kind of problems are to be avoided.

The first, she writes, ‘entails an abstract / noncountable use of the following noun (“problem”), and helps to synthesize the discussion in argumetative and persuasive writing.’ Of the second, she writes, that it ‘is simply a more relaxed form of the full plural construction, and tends to appear in interactive writing and live speech’. If, then, your example appears, as seems likely, in a formal context, then ‘what kinds of patent are being issued’ would probably be the one to go for.

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I disagree. To my ears, the second is just wrong. Would you say "These nationality of travelers"? I think you have to say "This kind" or "These kinds". Which verb form you use is more flexible. Further, there is a distinction in these sentences between one kind of problems and several kinds of problems that Pam Peters seems to be missing completely. –  Peter Shor Oct 2 '11 at 14:39
    
No, but why should we expect 'kind of' to behave in the same way as 'nationality of'? –  Barrie England Oct 2 '11 at 14:53
    
Pam Peters continues ‘Objections to “these kind of” have been stronger in the US than in the UK . . . Yet its frequency in American English is probably not very different from that of British English. The ratio of “these kind of problems” to “these kinds of problems” is 1:3 in British National Corpus data, and 1:4 in the Cambridge Corpus of American English.’ –  Barrie England Oct 2 '11 at 15:06
    
So does Pam Peters say whether "these kind of problems" means "this kind of problems" or "these kinds of problems"? –  Peter Shor Oct 2 '11 at 15:28
    
you don't need to answer that. A little bit of Googling shows that Pam Peters is right, and that "these kind of problems" usually means "this kind of problems". –  Peter Shor Oct 2 '11 at 15:32

Since the patents are being issued rather than the kinds, I would say that the correct phrasing is:

What kind of patents are being issued?

Note that if you were talking to a lawyer in a patent law firm where everybody was a specialist, you could ask:

What kind of patents is your specialty?

because his specialty is a kind and not patents.

Finally, since there is probably more than one kind of patent currently being issued, possibly an even better phrasing (depending on context) would be:

What kinds of patents are being issued.

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"What kinds/types of problem/patent are most common?" or "These kinds/types of problem/patent are the hardest to solve/regulate". To me, there's really no contest. But I'm a user of UK English; my experience is that in US written usage it is very common to write "These kinds of problems". IMO, the argument in favour of that form - that we may be talking about different or many problems/patents simultaneously - is a red herring. As someone points out above, the head noun "kinds" is plural, because we are considering different "kinds" of problem or patent - and it is understood that those - problems & patents - are not necessarily "all of one type or another".

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Grammar is not a matter of argument for or against. Arguing that nothing is neither singular nor plural will not keep it from requiring a singular verb; and arguing that what kind is singular will not keep it from agreeing from a plural verb on occasion. If you believe this is a matter of British speech, you may be right; but more than one evidence point is required. –  John Lawler Jul 23 '13 at 19:22

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