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A total of 10 payments were made.

OR

A total of 10 payments was made.

Which is correct? Or can both be correct?

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This looks like a potential duplicate of this discussion: english.stackexchange.com/questions/5378/… –  WAF Nov 26 '10 at 16:18
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Since "payment" is countable, I would go with "were" to reinforce the notion that there was more than one payment.

This thread contains more examples:

Number, majority and total are singular if preceded by the, but plural if preceded by a.

  • A number of people believe he is innocent.
  • A majority of residents want the town to reduce the recreation fee.
  • A total of 15 people were arrested for burglary last month in our town.

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".

  • "A total of five cars is impossible: you must have miscounted."
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I prefer your caveat to your answer and believe the entity is singular, referring rather to "a total" (singular) than to "payments". I will concede that the plural form doesn't sound at all shocking. –  msanford Dec 9 '10 at 18:36
    
Is there a better source for this than some guy on the internet? –  Don Reba Jan 31 '12 at 1:00
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The question is: was the "total" made, or were the "payments" made. In this case, I think it's clear that the payments were made, and so it's "were". –  Peter Shor Mar 24 '12 at 12:52
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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."

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A lot of people thinks this, but they're wrong. –  Peter Shor Sep 11 '13 at 13:17
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The subject of the sentence were the payments, and not the total number of payments, therefore were is correct.

A total of 10 payments were made.

You could re-phrase the sentence to make the total the subject:

The total number of payments made was 10

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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Do you mean the other way round: 'A total...'=plural, 'The total...'=singular ? –  TCL Nov 26 '10 at 17:44
    
Er... might have done... ;) [corrected] –  CJM Dec 8 '10 at 11:10
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"A total of ten payments were made". VonC has provided the reasoning, so I'm posting because I was taught not to use a number in the kind of sentence you've used. i.e: use 'ten' instead of '10'.

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