I wrote:

The ability to guarantee that a batch of writes occurs together.

One reviewer wanted to change that to occur.

I'm not sure if this is my idiom (Australian of U.K. origin) vs American or if I'm wrong.

I regarded batch of writes as a singular collective noun.

This English Club reference and others suggest using a plural verb with collective noun is less common in American English.

edit To clarify, the sentence is in a book about programming computer databases and the full sentence is much longer, possibly too long!

Those three operations are all we need; everything else is sugar on top (or maybe something a bit more nutritious, like the ability to guarantee that a batch of writes occurs together).

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    I cannot imagine a batch could be plural - however a lot of people is confused about this ;) – mplungjan Aug 8 '13 at 9:42
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    What on earth is a "batch of writes"? What is "a write"? – TrevorD Aug 8 '13 at 9:42
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    a batch of writes to a disk – mplungjan Aug 8 '13 at 9:43
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    Of the 5 dictionaries I've checked, none gives "write" as a noun. – TrevorD Aug 8 '13 at 10:17
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    @TrevorD: In the field of computing, this sense of "write" (as well as the corresponding sense of "read") is definitely a noun. The dictionaries you checked haven't caught up yet. – Peter Shor Aug 8 '13 at 11:47

You are correct. It should be occurs because you are talking about a batch. Now, a batch of what? That is something else.


The confusion can be eliminated by removing what the collection is about. Like, the list of guests is lying on the table. Some may like to use 'are' here. So let's forget for a moment what that list is about and rephrase our sentence- the list is lying on the table. I hope there is no confusion now.

Similarly, a group stands at the gate and waits for the president to come. Or, a group of men stands at the gate and waits for the president to come.

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    A lot of people is confused – mplungjan Aug 8 '13 at 9:45
  • 'a lot' doesn't have an existence of its own. While batch, list, group are nouns. – Ramit Aug 8 '13 at 9:47
  • It sure does have an existence of its own. However it is not singular in the particular use with people – mplungjan Aug 8 '13 at 9:48

One thing cannot occur together, unless it occurs together with something else. Thus, it has to be "a batch of writes occur together". See Google Ngram.

There are a lot of collective nouns (like "a lot") which can take plural verbs in English. See, for example, this question.

  • I agree with your first sentence, but the subject is "a batch", which is singular. So what is the batch occurring together with? Additionally, I suspect that the 'writes' do not occur together (i.e. simultaneously), but consecutively. – TrevorD Aug 8 '13 at 12:29

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