Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Take the examples:

  1. "One in ten children are dyslexic."
  2. "One in ten children is dyslexic."

  3. "One in ten children has dyslexia."

  4. "One in ten children have dyslexia."

The "one" is singular so 2 and 3 should be correct. But the "one in ten" is a fraction" so 1 and 4 should be correct. And yet I think I usually say 1 and 3. Which is/are correct?!

share|improve this question
1  
Tangentially related: Fractions as phrasal compound adjectives –  KitFox Apr 17 '12 at 14:35
    
    
possible duplicate of "There is/are more than one". What's the difference?. I think the answers there more than cover this specific context. –  FumbleFingers Apr 17 '12 at 20:57
3  
This question and the responses make it clear that more than one in ten nerds were given an LARL(1) parser generator by their parents, as a substitute for a mother tongue. –  Kaz Apr 17 '12 at 21:05
    
+1 Agree. They gotta be parsed for that. –  Kris Apr 17 '12 at 22:47
show 6 more comments

9 Answers 9

Both are commonly used and acceptable.

There are various common cases where a superficially singular subject can or indeed must be associated with a plural verb:

The government [are/is] considering the proposal.

A lot of these matters [have/*has] been dealt with.

The majority [are/??is] pleased with the outcome.

A half of all pensioners [are/??is] living below the poverty line.

In the case you mention, a plural verb is probably at least equally common nowadays as a singular, though historically a singular verb appears to have been more common (e.g. do some comparisons on Google NGram: the singular verb appears to have undergone a downward trend over the last couple of centuries).

You will find prescriptivists bemoaning the apparent contradiction of a singular noun accompanied by a plural verb. But there's really no God-given reason to expect the verb to agree necessarily with the head noun and actual data clearly contradicts this assumption. As is usually the case, the prescriptivists are inventing a problem because their grammatical model is inadequate.

share|improve this answer
4  
"A half of all" sounds odd to me. I'd only ever say "Half of all", and it would take a plural verb. –  Marthaª Apr 17 '12 at 15:15
7  
The government is, A lot of these matters have, The majority are (unless you're talking about a political group, which is treated as singular "The majority is trying to persuade the minority as to the blah blah blah), A half of all pensioners are. –  zzzzBov Apr 17 '12 at 15:26
3  
@zzzzBov That sounds like you are touching on a British-ism: "IBM are..." (British) vs "IBM is..." (American) and so forth. To me, an American, the former sounds very strange. –  Mei Apr 17 '12 at 16:48
5  
I'm sorry, I'm really not seeing this. "in ten children" is a prepositional phrase. "Children" is the object of the preposition. "One" is the subject. "One" is, rather obviously, singular. What am I missing here...? –  Adam Robinson Apr 17 '12 at 19:06
3  
@AdamRobinson, as the OP pointed out, [one] [in ten children] is not the only reasonable way to parse this sentence; [one in ten] [children] is also a reasonable parse (and IMO, the latter is much more reasonable, since what the phrase really means is "10% of children"). –  Ben Lee Apr 20 '12 at 21:32
show 10 more comments

In data analyzed for the ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ on constructions with one in or one out of followed by a number, plural agreement predominated. ‘The Cambridge Grammar of English Usage’, which quotes this finding, comments that ‘For most writers the choice depends on whether you’re thinking of a single case or a general principle.’

share|improve this answer
2  
Could you try to find some illustrative examples? –  Kris Apr 17 '12 at 16:07
add comment

"One in ten children" may be a fraction, but you are still talking about one child, even as a generality. Out of group of ten children at random, you are considering just one. The singular is/has is appropriate.

If you were to say "10% of children"or "a tenth of all children", then you are talking about a general group of children and the plural are/have is appropriate.

share|improve this answer
8  
I'm afraid language doesn't care about logic like that. (As you can see from Neil's examples, and from your very own "a tenth of all children" where it's painfully obvious that a tenth is actually singular, yet you admit that plural is appropriate.) "One in ten" is not to be confused with "one in ten somethings" or "one something in ten". They can, and do, behave differently. –  RegDwigнt Apr 17 '12 at 14:59
4  
For what it's worth, when you say "one in ten children" I would posit that you are usually talking about "ten per cent of children", not "one specific child out of a specific group of ten". (If you say e.g. "one out of the ten children surveyed", then that's different.) But of course, the syntax of the language doesn't care whether or not you can come up for a rationalisation in any case. –  Neil Coffey Apr 17 '12 at 18:18
1  
Two in twenty are [foo]. How should one in ten be any different? –  fluffy Apr 17 '12 at 18:30
1  
@AdamRobinson But the thing isn't modifying the word "one," it's modifying the phrase "one in ten," which is potentially plural. –  fluffy Apr 17 '12 at 23:02
2  
Or look at it another way: labels like "singular", "present", "masculine" etc are just rough arbitrary labels invented by human beings. Just because we choose to arbitrarily label something as "singular", "accusative", "future" etc doesn't mean that the language will for some reason magically re-configure itself to match our arbitrary label-- it could just be that our label is inaccurate. –  Neil Coffey Apr 17 '12 at 23:08
show 9 more comments

I think an alternative is:

One child in ten is dyslexic.

versus

One child in ten are dyslexic.

which seems to be incorrect. This puts the emphasis on the fact that there is one child, which is singular, that makes the verb be is rather than are.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for a logical, well-articulated defense of is. –  zpletan Apr 19 '12 at 3:46
add comment

I think it actually depends on the first number. If it is more than 1, then answers 1 and 4 should be used. If only one member of the set may fulfil the condition then 2 and 3.

share|improve this answer
add comment

is

Without doubt it is is.

compare:

One tenth of the students are ...

One in ten students is ...

[Edit] Specific case of one tenth of a set of ten students is an anomaly. (!)

share|improve this answer
11  
Without a doubt, you should provide some support for your answer. –  KitFox Apr 17 '12 at 14:36
    
The enthusiastic down voters may kindly offer their valuable comments now. Comments is no place for a debate, though. –  Kris Apr 17 '12 at 16:05
    
@Kris: Were i to downvote, it'd be because you're way overstating when you say "without doubt". Maybe there's no doubt on your part, but there obviously are people who disagree with you. Yet you offer nothing to support your answer -- in fact, your example outright contradicts itself. Grammatically, "tenth" is the subject in the first example...there's one of them, so it should be singular, right? If not, then why not in the second sentence? –  cHao Apr 17 '12 at 20:25
2  
@Kaz: Yeah, i missed the joke. Silly me, expecting humor to be funny. :) –  cHao Apr 17 '12 at 21:13
2  
I tried using 'A tenth' in place of 'One tenth', and the plural sounded better. But the phrase 'One in ten students' sounds like a contraction of 'One student in every ten students', and seems like I'm talking about the student I had in mind (out of a hypothetical ten). I therefore favour the singular here. This is my own preference--not a rule. Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves (as one in ten commenters are likely to say). –  Steve Powell Apr 18 '12 at 12:00
show 3 more comments

In cases like this, it helps to consider the two separate sentences for the singular and plural subjects:

  • One child is dyslexic.
  • Ten children are dyslexic.

Because the first sentence is true, we know to use the singular is.

For academic writing, if you're concerned about following conventional "rules" of grammar, it never hurts to consult the prescriptivistic grammar guide Elements of Style. Chapter 5 gives an example of a case in which a similar sentence would use the plural. The sentence is: One of the ablest men that have/has attacked this problem. If we use the same method of splitting it into two sentences with two subjects, we get

  • One man has attacked this problem.
  • Men have attacked this problem.

Because the second sentence is the true one, we know to use the plural have.

That said, in everyday speech, using either the singular or the plural should convey your meaning just fine. There's no issue of semantic confusion.

share|improve this answer
add comment

definitely 1 in 10 is, because you're assuming the subject is singluar.

E.G.

one in ten entities is... would make sense

one in ten entities are... would not make sense

because this would indicate that the single entity you are singling out is plural.

share|improve this answer
add comment

"are" is better.

One in ten, implies, one x in every ten from a collection of x'es greater than 10.

So if you have fifty pupils in a class and one in ten cannot spell, Then there are 5 pupils who cannot spell.

If a class always consisted of ten pupils then you would say "one pupil cannot spell" as the "one in ten" construct would be superfluous.

share|improve this answer
    
"One in ten cannot spell". "Five students out of fifty cannot spell" There is no singular or plural version of "can" so your example is moot (this ought to explain the down-votes). –  Mari-Lou A Sep 12 '13 at 6:25
add comment

protected by Jasper Loy Apr 18 '12 at 16:39

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.