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This is from a recent article:

He was rushed to the hospital immediately and a battery of tests was conducted.

Now shouldn't it be

He was rushed to the hospital immediately and a battery of tests were conducted.

Which is correct and why is it correct? :)

  • Side Note: Google usually gives a good estimate. – user3467349 Feb 7 '15 at 16:11
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    @user3467349 Actually, Google does not usually give a good estimate. Raw n-grams are garbage without context. – tchrist Feb 7 '15 at 18:31
  • @tchrist Do you have any basis for that claim? It's highly improbable that a grammatical construct A could be used 10x more than B and still be incorrect. (by basis I mean provide at least one obvious failure or gotcha which is not an error in the query itself). More so since you are claiming usually does not provide, I'd expect at least a 32%-5% (1-2 stddev) part of Ngram comparisons to prove inaccurate. – user3467349 Feb 7 '15 at 19:55
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    @user3467349 Of course I a basis for my statement. It is trivial to draw unwarranted conclusions from raw data out of context. This has been discussed in meta, and should not be discussed here in comments. Please go to meta if you think this merits discussion; comments are not meant for discussion. – tchrist Feb 7 '15 at 20:00
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    @HotLicks As has been repeatedly pointed out to you, that analysis is wrong and over-simplifying. If you would like to ask a new question, please do so. – tchrist Feb 9 '15 at 12:59
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TL;DR: Both were and was are used when battery of tests is their subject, including in scholarly publications as shown below. Sometimes the choice of number depends on the intended meaning. There may be a relatively recent trend of were becoming a more common choice, but both are frequent.


Your intuition is correct — or at least, it accords with how I would myself say it:

A battery of tests were conducted.

That’s because in English, premodifying phrases such as these act like partitive determiners. That means that they do not alter the grammatical number of the noun that they’re being applied to. So if the noun is plural to start with, it remains plural for purposes of grammatical agreement with a finite verb that it governs as a subject.

All of these take were for me in this situation:

  • A lot of my friends were surprised.
  • A few of my friends were surprised.
  • A number of my friends were surprised.
  • A bunch of my friends were surprised.
  • A couple of my friends were surprised.
  • A pair of my friends were surprised.
  • A dozen of my friends were surprised.
  • A handful of my friends were surprised.
  • A subset of my friends were surprised.
  • A great many of my friends were surprised.
  • The rest of my friends were surprised.
  • Both of my friends were surprised.
  • Few of my friends were surprised.
  • Some of my friends were surprised.
  • Half of my friends were surprised.
  • Two thirds of my friends were surprised.
  • Ninety percent of my friends were surprised.
  • Many of my friends were surprised.
  • Most of my friends were surprised.
  • All of my friends were surprised.
  • None of my friends were surprised.

It doesn’t matter that words like lot, dozen, handful are themselves singular and being used with an indefinite article in front of them. That’s just a red herring and you should not be distracted by it. They are not the logical head of the noun phrase that constitutes the subject of the sentence; the thing they are premodifying is, and it is that thing which governs subject–verb agreement. That’s why both these situations can grammatically occur and are correct:

  • A lot of this book is unreadable.
  • A lot of these books are unreadable.

As you see, the grammatical number of the subject is not changed by the premodifying a lot of portion: the verb agrees with either book or books as appropriate.

I therefore submit to you that your a battery of is no different from saying a bunch of, and so does not change the number of your subject.

He was rushed to the hospital immediately and a bunch of tests were conducted.

He was rushed to the hospital immediately and a battery of tests were conducted.

Now, it is also possible in English to use collectives as singulars if they are thought of as one unit instead of as their separate members taken individually. That’s why both the couple is and the couple are wind up being grammatical. The two versions merely reflect a different nuance as expressed by the speaker.

It is therefore also possible to use battery in a singular way when the entire group is considered as a singular entity, such as:

The first battery of tests done on Monday was inconclusive, but the second battery of tests from this morning leaves no room for doubt.

Just because you can use battery of tests sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural is no contradiction in English. It is how collectives work. This is the same principle that makes both of these grammatical:

  1. The council is united in their support for the measure.
  2. The council are divided in their support for the measure.

The perception of whether battery of tests should be thought of as singular or plural may depend on whether it is thought of as a single “definite” thing or just a bunch of them. In the example with the first battery, it feels more like one thing as a whole, but with a battery of, it feels more like a bunch of. However, even a bunch of can go both ways:

  1. A bunch of my friends were surprised.
  2. A bunch of grapes was all I ate that day.

Notice how both uses make perfect sense. It is even possible to swap them if you mean something else. The speaker’s intended meaning governs the number in these cases, not some mathematical law.


Postscript: Lies, Damned Lies, and N-Grams

Responding to a comment by JR, who presented a Google N-Gram that seems to show a growing use of the plural, I looked into several scenarios. Most of all these show that you cannot trust the raw n-gram results further than you can throw them.

As JR rightly observed, one must be extremely cautious in leaping to any conclusions based on Google N-grams, but it does appear that the premodifier use leading to plural verbs has been on the rise in the last fifty years, putting it nearly even with the other use:

       Click on the graph to go directly to the n-gram.

ngram of a battery of tests was/were

That’s a ratio of around 7 : 6, but that does not mean one is “right” and one “wrong”. They can apply to different situations, ones where each is correct in that circumstance depending on the intent of the writer.

I again stress that you should not put too much trust in raw Google n-grams, let alone in that particular n-gram, for if you restrict the corpus to American English, the were case seems to disappear. Then again, it also disappears if you restrict it to British English! That calls into question the entire classification of published works that Google is using here.

Well, either that or else the Antipodeans talk way different than the rest of us. Me, I’m blaming Google, not our friends from the Southern Hemisphere. :)

Scholarly Usage

Batteries of tests are not an especially common topic in general publication. However, they are a common topic in scholarly publications as indexed by Google Scholar. Here we find no shortage of citations where a plural verb follows battery of tests:

Not all results are as clear as this one from the British Journal of Medical Psychology, which you may be surprised to learn was published in Great Britain:

  1. A case can be made for the view that this factor is not one of overinclusion and that the battery of tests do not provide a measure of overinclusive thinking.

Nor either are they all as clear as this example from the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, again by utter chance published in Great Britain:

  1. The same battery of tests were carried out with fifty-five people of 70 years and over living in their own dwellings, of comparable intelligence as measured by Raven's Matrices and of comparable social competence as measured by the Orpington Schedule after Doll (1953).

There are also plenty of American examples to be found, so one should not think this merely some peculiarity of British speech. Here is one from the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, which I hope nobody is surprised was published in America:

  1. A small battery of tests were sensitive enough to discriminate between people with PD who fall and those with no history of falls.

And here is another, this time from the American Heart Association, published in — need I really say it? — yes, in America:

  1. The proliferation of techniques has led to the development of non-invasive vascular laboratories (NIVL) in which a battery of tests are employed.

There are plenty more where those come from, but so what? Much more important is that when you look at those plural citations or those for the corresponding singular, you quickly notice something quite interesting: the way Google indexes things you cannot tell that battery of tests is actually the subject governing the verb that would appear to follow it!

Here are some of the situations of that which I encountered in examining the actual data:

  • Battery of tests could be the last part of a compound subject, which of course demands a plural verb no matter how battery of tests is treated, and so tells you nothing about its own number.
  • Battery of tests could be the object of a preceding verb and therefore completely unrelated to the verb that follows it.
  • Battery of tests could be the object of a preceding preposition and also therefore completely unrelated to the verb that follows it.
  • Indeed, in some of the Google results, battery of tests even concludes one sentence and the verb that follows is the first word of the next sentence that comes along. They aren’t even in the same sentence! That’s because punctuation doesn’t count in these searches.

For all those reasons and more, any blind interpretation of Google N-Grams results is futile, because those results do not show that the battery of tests mentioned is actually the subject of the verb that comes after it. Often it is not.

So the very chasing of a quick and easy popularity metric is misleading in the extreme. It won’t work. More serious analysis would be required.


Summary

However, none of that matters: you can play Google games till the cows come home and it changes nothing.

The bottom line is that premodifying phrases like a set/number/lot/bunch/battery of can sometimes be singular and sometimes be plural, depending not only on the noun that follows them but also more importantly on the perception and intent of the speaker. That means that as so often occurs in actual language, more than a single possibility is perfectly admissible.

In my own examples I have used the forms here that I would use in my own idiolect and in this particular time and place. I make no guarantees that this applies to others’ idiolects (although the curated scholarly results suggests it may), nor do I swear not to change things around myself under alternate circumstances, just as I did with the first battery of tests.

As has been so often demonstrated, collective nouns in English can go either way; it just depends.

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    I would never argue with you, certainly not with an Ngram. But I do think this Ngram is pertinant, and shows there's either (a) a lack of consensus on this, or (b) a lot of people making a common error. – J.R. Feb 7 '15 at 14:41
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    I wonder, then: if the original was changed to use the definite article – He was rushed to the hospital immediately and the battery of tests was/were conducted – does that seem like a context where "was" would be more acceptable? – J.R. Feb 7 '15 at 14:48
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    Still an interesting Ngram, with one wording on the decline while the other was on the rise for a good 20 years. Thanks for hearing me out. – J.R. Feb 7 '15 at 14:53
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    @J.R. push the date back on your Ngram a bit, books.google.com/ngrams/… and then limit it to British English. – Frank Feb 7 '15 at 16:14
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    @user3467349 When an Ngram on a combined corpus gives almost equal results between A and B, but Ngrams from all the corpora the combined corpus is made up of gives no results for B at all, then something is not quite right. And when an Ngram from the American corpus gives plenty of hits for B, but one from the American (2009) corpus gives none at all, then something is also not quite right. Whichever way you look at it, the data behind Ngrams are not fully reliable, for many reasons. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 7 '15 at 23:37
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One way to determine which verb to use, is ask: were the tests conducted, or was the battery conducted. In this case, I would say both the tests and the battery were conducted, so you could use either verb.

However, if the sentence was:

The battery of tests was/were changed,

then only was works, because it's the whole battery that is changed, not the individual tests.

On the other hand, if the sentence was:

The battery of tests was/were in disagreement,

only were works, because it doesn't make sense for a battery to be in disagree with itself.

  • 1
    Intuitively I was very uncomfortable with saying that conduct can be applied to battery, since one is inclined to treat battery of as a partitive and therefore it could not be the subject - but to explain the historical preference for the singular I've had to argue that of tests is a compositional, in which case it can indeed be applied i.e. a house of cards. This answer is better than it seems. – user3467349 Feb 8 '15 at 4:11
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    @user3467349 - Substitute "suite of tests" for "battery of tests" -- the meanings of the two words are quite similar, and I suspect you'd be more comfortable with "a suite of tests was conducted". It's just your relative unfamiliarity with using "battery" in this context that's bothering you. – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 1:38
  • @user3467349 - or "batch of tests" – anemone Feb 9 '15 at 10:01
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    It has nothing to do with unfamiliarity it has to do with the grammatical difference between a partitive and compositional genitive - for example in the sentence a number of my friends were surprised, number is clearly not the subject of surprised. – user3467349 Feb 9 '15 at 10:49
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I'm in agreement with the OP that the following sentence sounds better (and is more logical) with the plural verb

He was rushed to the hospital immediately and a battery of tests were conducted.

Nevertheless, authors, scholars, scientists, analysts, economists, doctors, professors, experts and non, have used the singular verb with the noun battery for decades.

"battery of tests was" 1920-1948 and 1954-1982

The Measurement of Teaching Ability, 1945

As has been remarked, a battery of tests was applied to the teachers in the fall of the school year. This battery consisted primarily of those tests for which there were definite time limits to be observed

‎Purdue University. Dept. of Engineering Extension, 1946

Other tests were used [plural verb] to select time-study personnel and people for office jobs of a similar nature, and a battery of tests was [singular verb] developed to select inspectors in the Metal Inspection Department. I might say a word about this latter program ...

‎United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development. National Defense Research Committee, 1947

The findings of many of these studies confirmed the wisdom of the decision made earlier that a new and more effective battery of tests was required for the purpose of classifying large numbers of men with respect to their aptitude for ...

United States. Dept. of the Army, 1958

A 40-hour battery of tests was administered in Korea to 310 combat infantrymen who had previously been identified as fighters or non-fighters on the basis of descriptions of their recent combat behavior.

Current literature on venereal disease (1968), 1974

However, when the "battery" of tests was carried out, each individual test was seen to have missed a proportion of cases of syphilis.

School Programs for Disruptive Adolescents, 1982

Psychological Inventory, the significant self-concept items developed previously by us, and an interpersonal-competence items checklist. In May, toward the end of the first cohort year, the same battery of tests was administered to the boys.

Acid Precipitation, 1993

A second battery of tests was conducted when the incinerators were fired with only primary sludge. A second battery of tests was performed when the units were fired wit combined with combined primary and secondary sludge.

"battery of questions was"

Pure-bred Dogs, American Kennel Gazette, 1973

Second, respondents were given an issues battery consisting of ten statements and asked to rate their agreement or disagreement. This battery of questions was designed on the basis of the qualitative focus group interviews performed as the...

Main Demographic Features of the Population of Zimbabwe, 1985

A battery of questions was designed and asked and answers were elicited from all females 12 years old and over whether they were married, single, divorced separated or widowed.

Tipping the balance: a study of non-take up of benefits in an inner city area, 1988

Beliefs and feelings As in the Kerr study, a battery of questions was asked about 'beliefs and feelings' about the claim process.

Implied Contract by Mike Smitley, 2011

The first battery of questions was easy. Charles easily fielded them and gave predictable answers. Dwayne asked him about the Westbrook murders. Charles blurted out the predicted response that he was not personally involved.

"battery of lawyers was"

Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine, 1915

His battery of lawyers was masked: nobody knew such a battery had been positioned: his Montags laid low: his Seligs were equally discreet.

The New Yorker, 1984

"As it turned out, my battery of lawyers was no match for their battery of eyewitnesses." "Mr. Pomeroy is currently sixty -per cent combat ready, but. "Come on, let's get going!" no one seemed to hear her or pay attention.

African American History: Four Centuries of Black Life, 1990

The court proceedings lasted all winter, and public opinion became increasingly divided. A brilliant battery of lawyers was in charge of the Africans' defense.

The Final Adjustment By Tom Peavler, 2010

His battery of lawyers was there in less than 15 minutes. They were from the most prestigious criminal law firm of the day. The firm was James, Williamson, Abrams, and Kelly. Arraignment was scheduled for the following day. His lawyers were ...


A bit of grammar

It may be no small coincidence but all of the examples quoted above were taken from North American publications. Many Americans will tend to favour the singular verb because they consider a collective noun such as group, to be a single entity. For example

A large group of students is arriving at noon.
A group of tourists was visiting the national park

Whereas many Britons will choose either the singular or plural verb form depending whether they consider the group to be a single unit or made up of individuals. In the sentences below the speaker considers the students and tourists as members/individuals belonging to a specific group.

A large group of students are arriving at midday.
At a third table, a group of tourists were busy exchanging business cards
The Daily Telegraph

The Oxford Dictionaries blog has this to say

The British view …

However, the verb form used can depend on the emphasis of the sentence, and accepted regional usage, so no wonder many people are confused. In British English it’s absolutely fine to treat most collective nouns as either singular or plural – you can say my husband’s family is very religious or my husband’s family are very religious.

…and from across the Atlantic

American English takes a slightly different approach to the agreement of verbs with collective nouns. There is a very strong preference for the use of singular verbs with such nouns, so in American English you are much more likely to see, for example:

His company’s legal team is investigating the matter.

rather than:

His company’s legal team are investigating the matter.

In fact, to prove their point if you look up the noun battery, Oxford provides the following example:

A battery of neuropsychological tests were also administered by IVR with a standard touch-tone telephone.
OD

  • Considering that Google Scholar shows that authors, scholars, scientists, analysts, economists, doctors, professors, experts and non, have also used the plural verb with the phrase battery of X for decades, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Would you kindly explain? – tchrist Feb 9 '15 at 3:09
  • I just wanted to present a few authoritative examples including the singular verb, to visually present the other side of the coin. When you actually read the excerpts it becomes clearer why some prefer to use the singular verb with the collective noun battery. – Mari-Lou A Feb 9 '15 at 6:12
  • Thank you for explaining; I tried not to sound confrontational in my asking for explanation, and indeed upvoted you. There are certainly plenty of examples to be found going both ways, some of which might be explainable by a different intended meaning, a different regional bias, or a different temporal bias. In any event, all three of you and me and the OP instinctively thought using were worked better in this instance, but what that means, I don’t know. – tchrist Feb 9 '15 at 12:55
  • @tchrist: Take My family isn't/aren't very religious, for example. Would you be able and willing to use either version according to circumstances and/or precise nuance intended? I suspect I make pretty consistent choices for such usages, even though normally I'm not even consciously aware of making them. A bit like the way most parents choose between my/our daughter without really noticing when and why in many contexts. – FumbleFingers Sep 9 '15 at 23:14
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, I would absolutely be able to use either my family is or my family are according to circumstance. I know that I do so. – tchrist Sep 9 '15 at 23:35
2

Since Tchrist gave an answer I think while correct in some aspects is quite wrong in others, so I thought I would give it a shot.

Historically collective nouns can take verbs both in the singular and the plural - the use of often referred to the context in which it these words were used (action applied to each member of the collective group individually, or as a whole). Wikipedia probably covers this well enough http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_noun

In a battery of tests - of is a compositional use of the genitive which yields collective noun. Google Ngrams - shows that a battery of tests has historically been used in the singular but is recently being overtaken by the plural usage. Tchrist claims that Ngram's data is faulty or erroneous and cites the fact that the British English corpora produces no results for a battery of tests were as an indicator.

update: Tchris has provided google scholar references to support this claim, while the singular formulation is 5x more popular than the plural it is telling that both are used in British medical journals and I was wrong to dismiss his criticism of google ngrams as unfounded.

update 2: While it's incorrect to say a battery of guns were is never used, the majority of its uses are of the type a battery of guns, were and the actual plural use does not appear to be common since google reports this: Ngrams not found: battery of guns were.


Why is the singular significantly more popular than the plural? I think this is substantially historical - specifically that a battery of guns has mostly been referred to in the singular. That is to say that the compositional use of battery stems initially from it's use when referring to an artillery battery, and the tradition of referring to it in the singular carried over to a battery of tests - this would explain both the historical precedence and the recent popular trend for the plural expression.


tl:dr: To the original question battery of tests were and battery of tests was are both perfectly okay expressions, contexts might give reasons to prefer one over the other.

  • I stand by what I wrote: American English versus British English versus English. – tchrist Feb 7 '15 at 21:28
  • @tchrist books.google.com/ngrams/… – Mari-Lou A Feb 7 '15 at 21:45
  • "Battery of tests were" books.google.com/ngrams/… – Mari-Lou A Feb 7 '15 at 21:47
  • @Mari-LouA There are plenty of British uses in scholarly publications; please see my updated report. – tchrist Feb 8 '15 at 3:25
  • @tchrist British uses of "battery tests was" you mean. Because I checked the results in the first Ngram chart link I posted and they all look legit. I'm not saying using the plural verb is wrong, I prefer it but one cannot deny hard evidence or dismiss it as being "lies" – Mari-Lou A Feb 8 '15 at 7:47
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The subject of the verb "was" here is "battery", which is singular, so the singular "was" is the correct form to use. It helps to read it as "A battery was conducted." as it then becomes clear that "were" is incorrect. "Of tests" does not affect the number of the verb, it simply tells us something about the "battery".

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    This is the wrong answer. It’s wrong because English is not a programming language, and it does not work that way. A lot of tests were conducted is correct, because the head noun governing verb agreement remains tests, which is plural. So too here. – tchrist Feb 7 '15 at 13:00
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    @user346 I think that people go with the crowd. See's upvoted answer, upvotes the answer too – HarryCBurn Feb 7 '15 at 20:38
  • @tchrist - Why should the verb change when you add or remove "of X"? It may "feel right" to you, but it doesn't to me and to millions of others. – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 1:33
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    @HotLicks A lot of people is going to tell you to lay off and lesson up. – tchrist Feb 9 '15 at 2:02
  • Said the guy who equates "battery" with "lot". – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 2:09
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Can't comment on other replies because I need 50 rep (stupid site). But in reply to jprpogers272 i'm going to have to disagree.

Battery is not singular, battery implies multiple; or a whole bunch. For example a battery of guns.

Thus I believe the second answer

He was rushed to the hospital immediately and a battery of tests were conducted.

is correct

  • True, "battery" implies multiple. But "battery" itself is singular, just like "dozen" is singular. "Batteries" is the plural. – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 1:31
  • @HotLicks Give it up: a dozen of your friends disagree. – tchrist Feb 9 '15 at 11:53

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