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Should I use is or are in this sentence?

Actual hours [is/are] greater than the estimates.

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4 Answers 4

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Of course I agree with Ronan. But I'll mention something that may be a reason that you asked the question in the first place:

Many Americans play golf.
A lot of Americans play golf.
A large number of Americans play golf.

Technically, the verb should be singular in the last two, but the influence of "Americans" is strong enough to pull the verb into the plural. Now consider these:

I bought a lot of oranges and made them into juice.
I bought a lot of oranges and made it into juice.

In the first one, "a lot of" means "many". In the second one, I bought a "wholesale lot" (a group of items that is sold as one item) and made all the oranges in it into juice. Because of this:

I have some oranges.  I took a whole lot of them and made them into juice.
I have some oranges.  I took the whole lot of them and made it/them into juice.

You will see the second sentence both ways. The first one means you didn't use them all, the second means that you did.

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Actual Hours is a plural term so

Actual hours are greater than the estimates.

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    But many people would say 'Five miles is too far for me to walk', 'Three tons is too much for it to carry', and 'Three hours is too long for me to spend watching a film'. Logical agreement is their (and my ) preference. I'd say that, if one accepts synesis, Ana's example constitutes the exception rather than the rule. 'Hours' here is not the normal pure unit usage. It means 'time spent on the job', and takes a plural verb. 'The miles covered were / mileage covered was greater than expected' // '4000 miles is excessive' show the inconsistency hereabouts. Mar 13, 2014 at 21:20
  • Very interesting point, Edwin, and much more probably why the OP asked the question in the first place than my conjecture.
    – BobRodes
    Mar 17, 2014 at 15:38
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If 'Actual Hours' is the name of a category then

Actual hours [is/are] greater than the estimates.

could be read as

[The Category named] "Actual Hours" is greater than the estimates.

If so, this is more in the realm of company jargon than a question of English.

In plain old English you can reduce the sentence to

"Hours are greater"

and the plural subject demands a plural verb.

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If "Actual Hours" is a proper noun, identifier, or jargon referring to a formal variable then you should treat it as singular. Capitalizing it, quoting it, or typesetting it differently to emphasize it would help reinforce this and make your meaning clearer.

"Actual Hours" is greater than expected.

If not, then you can sidestep the whole issue of it being plural by using the value being measured rather than the unit being used to measure it as it becomes a matter of magnitude rather than count: "actual time", "actual duration", "actual interval", "actual time spent", and so on. Specify the unit as part of a specific measurement rather than in identifying the abstract value.

The actual duration is higher than expected by 5 hours.

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