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Which is correct?

How much is the two fares?

How much are the two fares?

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3 Answers 3

We say the two fares are XXX, so the question should be asked with are as well.

The construction how much is the two fares may be seen as an ellipsis of how much is the total of the two fares and I would avoid this in formal writing.

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Both are possible in British English. The first is asking for a total, the second for two separate sums (though a hearer might not observe this distinction in answering).

Edit: limited to BrE.

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I agree with the above comment, I would never use is. I might use "for," as in, "How much for the two fares?" if I wanted to get a total. –  Brendon Nov 10 '11 at 13:01
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Agreed - "is" stands in for "is it for", where you expect the answer to be the total. With "are" it's more ambiguous, though you might be irritated if you got the answer "Your fare is £3.75, and the child's is £1.68". Especially if you're not that good at maths, and you're left wondering whether the £5 note in your hand will be enough to cover the cost of both. –  FumbleFingers Nov 10 '11 at 13:30
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+1. Another instance, perhaps, of AmEng insisting on grammatical agreement where BrEng allows notional agreement. –  Barrie England Nov 10 '11 at 14:26
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@jprete: I would say, rather, that if BrEng uses ‘How much is the two fares?’, it’s not so much because it’s understood as ‘How much is it for two fares?’, as because, as Colin suggests, ‘the two fares’ is perceived as a single whole. –  Barrie England Nov 10 '11 at 17:17
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Will people please stop downvoting me for expressing a fact about my own language? Perhaps I should have noted that I was not speaking for all varieties (and sometimes I have done so), but it never occurred to me in this case that another variety would disagree. –  Colin Fine Nov 11 '11 at 10:59

It seems to me that the technically correct answer is "is". You are asking for a total cost. There is only one total cost. A more formal way to ask the question would be, "How much is the cost for two fares?"

Jasper says that when you say it as a statement, we use "are", as in, "Two fares are $5." Yes, people often say it that way, but I've also heard people say, "Two fares is $5". Again, this is really short for, "The cost of two fares is $5". We're not saying that the two fares are something, we're talking about the cost of the fares.

I think what's happening here is that people are omitting words from the sentence for brevity, and then trying to apply the grammar rules to this truncated sentence.

For example, suppose someone asked you, "What color is the digit 'three' on that sign?" You might reasonably answer "The three is blue." But I wouldn't be surprised if someone carelessly said, "The three are blue", especially someone editing text after the fact without carefully reading the context.

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One day somebody posting here will explain what "technically correct" means. I think it means "what my schoolteacher told me", but I might be wrong. –  Colin Fine Jul 2 '12 at 10:42
    
We've discussed what defines "correct grammar" on other questions. Unlike, say, physics, you can't perform an experiment and prove that such-and-such is the right answer. To at least some degree, what most people say or write is by definition the right answer. But I think it's also reasonable to talk about long-established rules, especially when they are logical and consistent. E.g., I can accept that popular usage has made "gay" no longer mean "happy and care-free", because it's a stand-alone definition. It will take a lot more before I accept that "We is" is grammatically correct. –  Jay Jul 2 '12 at 13:39
    
I generally agree with you. But I have a prejudice against rules that were invented out of whole cloth either by people who thought they knew how English should be, or in order to sell more copies of their grammar books. And even greater prejudice against the bogus rationalisations that are sometimes adduced for these rules. And most of all against people who use said rules to patronise others. (I just realised you might read this as an attack on you, Jay. I don't mean it to be. This is a general rant). –  Colin Fine Jul 2 '12 at 20:36
    
@ColinFine I was married: I'm used to being attacked and ridiculed. :-) Actually I agree with you. There are grammar "rules" that people quote that make no sense to me -- like the infamous "never end a sentence with a preposition" -- that we're supposed to follow because somebody said it's a rule. It's fair to ask, Who says? Why is this a rule? What purpose does it serve? Of course, you always get those who reply, "Why, because it's the rule." "Who says?" "All the experts." "What makes these people experts?" "Because they made up these rules." Etc. –  Jay Jul 3 '12 at 14:01

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