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Please consider the following:

My wide range of abilities have helped my team succeed.

My wide range of abilities has helped my team succeed.

Microsoft Word identifies the first as a subject-verb agreement error. However, from my perspective, the "wide range" is not the subject, but rather a descriptor of the abilities. Are either of these sentences wrong, and is one preferred?

  • 3
    You should never trust Microsoft Word on grammar. – Peter Shor Dec 7 '13 at 19:18
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    @Peter, or anything else (including, but not limited to, spelling, typography, hyphenation, and styling). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 7 '13 at 22:57
  • I think this Gordian knot can simply be cut: "My wide range of abilities helped my team succeed." – Andreas Blass Dec 8 '13 at 3:06
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In such cases, ‘. . . when there are agreement options, the singular verb seems to invoke the set, whereas the plural verb makes us aware of the individual items in it’ (The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’). That leaves the choice of both available to the writer, depending on the aspect to be emphasised.

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    Exactly. A/NP[Human]'s (wide/narrow) range of NP[Pl] is one of many such lexical quantifiers under construction. One can focus on the NP[Human] involved, or on the NP[Pl]. Either way works, because there is no exclusive parse; some people see it one way under some circumstances, and people also see it other ways under some circumstances. Like having two doors. – John Lawler Dec 7 '13 at 19:56
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Subjective subject-verb agreement

Most of that rack of paperbacks is/are trash does appear ambiguous but that is only grammatical. If it is to retain its meaning the rack can and the paperbacks cannot be dropped…

Most of that rack is trash appears unambiguous but it clearly refers to the rack alone. Only prior knowledge of the context, not grammar, can reveal the meaning.

Most of the/those paperbacks are trash not only appears equally unambiguous; it clearly gives the correct meaning and no other.

The box of cookies is a slightly different can of worms since the content provides more to get the teeth into.

Most of the box of cookies has/have been eaten might be grammatically identical but it doesn’t really contain the same ambiguity as the trashy rack.

Most of the box has been eaten is unlikely to be used by itself, solely because it contains the and not that.

Most of that box has been eaten could stand by itself but it would still fairly clearly indicate either a mistake, or the lack of extra knowledge. It can make complete sense only if we already know that the speaker is referring to a rodent infestation or something even more odd, such as a box-eating contest.

Not to make too much of a meal of a tiny point, whether team or players are eating also makes a difference to the meaning.

  • The team of players is eating lunch implies the whole team.

  • The players are eating lunch quite possibly means the whole team but that’s no longer implicit. It could as easily mean any number of players more than one, however many constitute a team in whichever sport.

That niggle grows apace when we ask what actually helped the team succeed.

My wide range has helped my team succeed won’t work unless, for instance, the team is of rustlers or wranglers and the coach’s home really does have a wide range where they train.

My abilities have helped my team succeed clearly does work by itself.

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