A total of 10 payments were made.
A total of 10 payments was made.
Which is correct? Or can both be correct?
Since "payment" is countable, I would go with "were" to reinforce the notion that there was more than one payment.
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That being said, this is not a strict rule, and if the focus is specifically on the fact of something being a total, you would use "was".
When determining the number (singularity/plurality) of a subject followed by a prepositional phrase, the phrase should not be considered.
In this case, "A/The total of 12 payment was made" is correct, because the prepositional is not the subject and does not affect the number (verb tense). When thinking about it, ignore the "of 12 payments" and view the sentence as "A total was made." Obviously, in this case, it's not "A total were made."
Another way to look at it: A building with 100 floors was built. The verb "was" modifies the subject "building," not "100 floors."
The subject of the sentence were the payments, and not the total number of payments, therefore were is correct.
You could re-phrase the sentence to make the total the subject:
VonC offers a useful rule-of-thumb - 'A total...' = plural, 'The total...' = singular - but it all boils down to the subject of the sentence.
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