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Plural/singular verb agreement with units
Does modifying a collective noun with a number make the subject plural?

Can anyone help me determine the correct verb in this sentence? I am not sure what to do. If it were not such a complex introductory phrase, it would be more obvious. The general consensus of my friends who are not professional writers is that the verb should be are.

To me the question is whether or not the subject is singular (i.e., “a large collective volume of paint”, perhaps in a tank) or plural (a lot of the individual gallon containers of paint).

If simplified to other options, it would be like these:

  1. Paint is sold.
  2. Gallons of paint are sold.
  3. More paint is sold.
  4. More gallons of paint are sold.
  5. More than 1000 gallons of paint is sold. [emphasis on total volume]
  6. More than 1000 gallons of paint are sold. [emphasis on individual containers]
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marked as duplicate by tchrist, jwpat7, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, FumbleFingers, Mahnax Sep 7 '12 at 5:51

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No matter what the reasoning, it would be More than 1000 gallons of paint is sold each day. –  Kris Sep 6 '12 at 12:32
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@Kris: How would that fare if you replaced "gallons" with "cans"? –  SF. Sep 6 '12 at 12:33
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@Kris: Would you say that no matter what the reasoning, it would be more that 1,000 cars is sold each day? –  Roaring Fish Sep 6 '12 at 12:46
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@Kris: By implication, only your way of looking at this issue is "reasoning", and those of us who find "are" acceptable have no competence in matters of linguistic and logic. I respectfully disagree. There's nothing special about more than, thousands or gallons - so what about "Over 100 men is needed to complete the job"? –  FumbleFingers Sep 6 '12 at 12:51
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@Kris There's a big difference between "gallons" and "cans". "Cans" is a countable noun; "gallons" is a unit of measure. Some authorities say that a measured quantity is always singular: "Two liters of water IS in the container", etc. (Though I've often heard people say "are" there. Are they just wrong or is that an unsettled case?) But that doesn't apply to something countable: "Two jugs of water ARE in the refrigerator." –  Jay Sep 6 '12 at 14:55

5 Answers 5

Your friends are right. The verb should be are.

This is because the sentence is about gallons of paint, and there are 1,000 of them. Emphasis on total volume or individual containers doesn't come into it.

Compare with

A 1,000-gallon quantity of paint is sold everyday.

Here, the sentence is about a quantity of paint, and there is only one quantity so the verb should be is. Whether that quantity is a 1,000 gallon tank or 1,000 one-gallon cans makes no difference.

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What if the whole paragraph were "We sell over 200 of those 5 gallon cans of paint every day in the week. More than 1000 gallons is sold each day!" –  bib Sep 6 '12 at 16:42
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Ten miles is/are too long to hike with a broken ankle? –  Peter Shor Sep 7 '12 at 2:29

The subject of this sentence is more used as a pronoun.

a greater or additional amount or degree:

tell me more

they proved more of a hindrance than a help

As a pronoun, more has a collective quality. In some cases, a singular is probably mandatory

More than this quantity of 1000 gallons, is needed. [quantity conveys a singular amount]

In other cases, the plural form is probably needed

More than these 1000 gallon cans are needed. [these emphasizes the plural quality]

The term gallons is not the subject of the sentence but a modifier (quantifier) of more. While gallons plural nature may incline one toward a plural verb, as has been pointed out in comments (see tchrist above), a numerical term in front of a noun does not necessarily eliminate a collective singular sense. See also this discussion of dozen.

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Would you say "More than 1,000 bottles of beer is sold each day", on the basis that "1,000 bottles" is just a modifier of 'beer'? Ask yourself what is being sold - it isn't 'more'! 'Bottles of beer' or 'gallons of paint' is what is being sold, and they are both partitive and the subjects of the verb, with the '1,000' is the the quantifier of those partitives. –  Roaring Fish Sep 6 '12 at 14:45
    
@RoaringFish I agree that more without more is not very informative. But we often have subjects of sentences that need modification before they mean much. Gallons are both a unit of delivery (one gallon can) and a measure of amount of a non-unitary liquid (multi-gallon tankful). "Bottles" are different. Without reference to actual volume, the unit, bottle, is all you are discussing. I have no problem treating more than 1000 gallons as a plural concept unless context demands otherwise. More than 1000 gallons were sold yesterday. Tomorrow more is needed. What would you call more? –  bib Sep 6 '12 at 15:03
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+1, as I agree to your point that the singularity/plurality depends on the context. But I would point out that the role of the word gallons in fact depends on that context: It's either a modifier of more, or it is a noun, the subject of the sentence. –  Bob Sep 6 '12 at 15:14
    
+1. Like Bob, I agree that singularity/plurality depends on the context. I think the real determinant of context is the verb sold. Paint is sold individual gallon packages, so the action is a repeated (plural) one. Contrast with this sentence: More than 1000 gallons of water is pumped daily to irrigate this field. –  Steven Rumbalski Sep 6 '12 at 17:37

I would go for "is" instead of "are".

The word "paint" is a singulare tantum and a mass noun, which is a word only existing in the singular form used to describe a mass of something uncountable. In English, words describing liquids (water, paint), gases (air), powders (flour) and some materials (wood) are such words usually only used in the singular form, unless you refer to two different types of something, e.g.: Which of these paints do you prefer?

In your sentence, "gallon" is a measure word and not the subject, which grammatical number defines the correct verb form (is/are). "More than 1000 gallons" is a quantifier, which specifies the amount of paint and not the number of paint(s).

So, paint is still singular and it is IMHO more correct to use the verb form "is".

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1,000 gallons are sold ; [More than 133 billion liters (35 billion gallons) are sold per year](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_beer) ; [25,000 gallons are sold in a month](www.iroquoiscsd.org/cms/lib/.../HW__023_LESSON_3.7.PDFShare) ;[Millions of gallons are sold in supermarkets](www.thewaterq.com/wnews1/index.php?...k2...); [millions of litres are sold every day](www.cascade-water-filters.co.uk/why-bottled-water-may-be-ta...Share); and so on. –  Roaring Fish Sep 6 '12 at 13:41
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Roaring Fish: In all your examples here, the countable plural of the measure unit (many gallons, many liters) controls the grammatical number and requires the "are" form. This is not the the case in "1.000 gallons of paint ...". –  jarnbjo Sep 6 '12 at 13:52
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Then how do you account for the fact that there are five records of ‘gallons of water are’ in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and three in the British National Corpus, but none in either of ‘gallons of water is’? –  Barrie England Sep 6 '12 at 14:44
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I disagree. Perhaps in the context of paint manufacturing the paint would be a mass noun. But in the selling of paint, a "gallon of paint" is an object, and my local paint store has many of them. Yesterday they may have sold more than 1000 of them. –  Bob Sep 6 '12 at 15:08
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It's true that most liquids, in most contexts, are of infinitely variable quantity. But reference to gallons of paint being sold is a special case. Paint is essentially never sold in variable quantities. It's sold in discrete units, such as spray cans, hobby cans, quart cans, gallons, or five-gallon cans. And the smaller quantities are not additive: If you sold 4 pint-cans and 2 quart-cans of paint today, you wouldn't say, "I sold one gallon of paint today." You'd say, "I sold 4 pint-cans and 2 quart-cans." Because the OBJECTS (the cans of paint) are what we're selling. –  Bob Sep 6 '12 at 16:50

Unless you have a specialized context, the subject is plural, since the gallons (think cans) of paint are what’s being sold. The only way I could see:

More than 1000 gallons of paint is sold

is to say:

**For the main (paint manufacturing) plant, **more than 1000 gallons of paint is sold each day .

Or something like that, but even then it would be a close call, because paint is almost always sold as individual objects, cans of paint. So I’d go with are.

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The correct usage has to be: More than 1000 gallons of paint is sold each day.

What is worth noting in this context is that there is a reference to a large volume of a single "item" i.e. paint. So, the quantification for the connective will be paint

The consideration of the case 1000 cans makes it a statement referring 1000 individual items, which in this case are cans.

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The consideration of the case 1000 gallons makes it a statement referring 1000 individual items, which in this case are gallons. –  Roaring Fish Sep 6 '12 at 13:31
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The entity 1000 gallons of paint is specified as a whole. There is no indication in the statement suggesting any tangible entity into which the paint is subdivided. Units of measurement cannot be treated as tangible (100 meters of cloth would indicate a single piece of cloth). Hence, it has to be treated as a single unit. –  Karan P Sep 6 '12 at 13:51
    
The word "gallons" suggests it is subdivided. "1,000 [X] are sold" - 1,000 cars are sold; 1,000 trees are sold; 1,000 gallons of paint are sold. –  Roaring Fish Sep 6 '12 at 14:03
    
Consider this similar to : 100 meters of cloth. Although "meters" is used, it is used to signify a single unit of cloth which is 100 meters in length. –  Karan P Sep 6 '12 at 14:24
    

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