A question was recently posed about the sentence

"This is what 51,000 people looks like."

The question was, "Is this grammatical?"

It seems opinions vary on how to handle this sentence. I feel that 51,000 is an adjective describing people and so "looks" should be "look" as in "This is what 51,000 people look like."

These are my questions:

1) What function does 51,000 serve in the sentence? 2) How are numbers treated in general when they appear before nouns? I ask because I have heard people say "Here's 30 Dollars." Should it be "is" or "are?" Seems like people are referring to "30" and not "Dollars." 3) What function does "look" play in the above sentence? 4) Also, it seems that because 51,000 is written as a number (instead of fifty one thousand) people are treating it like a group whereas if it were written, I think it would be harder to do that. Does writing it as a number or as words change things? 5) Also, if the sentence were "Here is what 51,000 people looks like." would the word "here" change the sentence and how we parse the it?


2 Answers 2

  1. Quantifiers generally act as determinatives, which define the nouns they modify. This is different from adjectives, which describe the nouns they modify. You can tell the difference because determinatives cannot be inflected for comparison, and they can't appear as predicate adjectives. You can say either

Purple people are here or People here are purple

but you can only say

51,000 people are here.

You can't say

People here are 51,000.

  1. Whether you hand someone a twenty-dollar bill or a two ten-dollar bills, you say

Here is twenty dollars.

Because that's a single amount, no matter the denomination of the bills.

  1. "Look" is a stative verb in your example. It means "appears."

  2. I don't see how numerals or words affect the grammar. Whether you choose a singular or plural verb depends on whether you mean the group as a whole or as multiple individuals. If you say

51,000 people seems small for a protest rally

you mean that it's a small crowd. If you say

51,000 people seem small

you mean that either they are all midgets or they are being viewed from afar.

  1. "Here" is an adverb of place, telling us where they people appear as they do. Its presence or absence doesn't change the basic structure of the sentence.
  • Yes, your point 4. Is a good way of saying what I was trying to say in my answer. Aug 21, 2015 at 9:26
  • So if I understand you correctly, there is no right answer...it can be either look or looks depending on what the author intends? Also, 51,000 or any other number in front of a noun is a determiner? "I had 3 pies for dinner," 3 is a determiners? Aug 21, 2015 at 12:25
  • I'm having trouble seeing this any other way than the photo of a large crowd that Chasly posted. It seems my brain is locked into "...51,000 people look like." So you're saying the verb can either point to 51,000 or people unless I set the meaning with "a crowd of?" Aug 21, 2015 at 12:36

This is what 51,000 people look like.

That sentence says, for example, that there are 51,000 people in the world that look like this soldier. For example, suppose there are 51,000 soldiers that look like this. They all look the same when they are wearing their uniform.

enter image description here

This is what 51,000 people looks like.

This says that this picture shows what [a crowd of] 51,000 people looks like. Individually they all look different.

enter image description here

  • But this doesn't answer the question. Gathering of is different than 51,000 people. It's comparing apples and oranges. Im not trying to be a nit picker, I really want some clarity in this. Aug 21, 2015 at 8:54
  • Either sentence fits either picture, actually. (Minus, of course, the fact that there are less that 51k people in one of them.) It does not matter whether the individuals look different, or look the same. They could indeed be clones, and you'd happily say "this is what 51k clones looks like".
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 21, 2015 at 8:56
  • Yes, I wasn't very clear. I've edited. Aug 21, 2015 at 9:17

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