Do you say have or has when talking about how many years passed. My example is (from the SAT):

More than forty years have passed since a quarter of a million people marched on Washington, D.C...

I always thought it was so and so years has passed. Could someone explain to me if one is always right or when to use which.

  • Related question and another one.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 9:52
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Is it "5–6 weeks are a lot of time" or "5–6 weeks is a lot of time"? and answered 'Measure phrases are usually [treated as referencing single continuous intervals and] given a singular verb' at another duplicate. Ricky spells out that there is a choice available in this case, with the opposing pull of proximity agreement. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 9:56
  • @ everybody on this page: Please do not confuse learners asking very simple questions with crazy advanced off-topic stuff they are not asking about at all. All the answers and comments here are completely off the mark. The only question here is if anybody, ever, says "forty years has passed". And the answer is "No, nobody, ever, does that. That is not English". The OP is not asking about "forty years is a long time". That is a completely different question. It is not being asked here. Stay on topic.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:37
  • @dngr193: what you always thought was always wrong. Years is plural, and so you use the plural verb. Forty cars have passed, forty people have passed, forty years have passed. Never has. Never. The title of your question is wrong, too. Should be "saying how many years have passed". Plural noun, plural verb.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:42

2 Answers 2


In this case I would use "have passed", but apparently it's OK to treat "forty years" as a unit and use a singular verb, too:

Plural unit words of distance, money, and time take a singular verb:

300 miles is a long ways to go on a bicycle. (distance)

Two hundred dollars seems a lot to spend on a dress. (money)

Fifteen years is a long time to spend in jail. (time)


Examples that use a singular verb:

In Finland, a customs debt will expire within three years. A service of a customs debt is not possible after three years has passed from its occurrence.

(Procedural Rules in Tax Law in the Context of European Union and Domestic Law)

Well, ten years has passed and I would like to update you on my recovery, relationship with the driver and what happened to the others who were in the car.

(Google Books)

In fact, 23 years has passed since I wrote the entries in 1983-84, 14 years has passed since I had wrote the entries in 1993-94 and seven years has passed since I had wrote the entries in 2001-02.

(Google Books)

  • 2
    I believe your second and third quotes to use incorrect grammar - I believe it should be have passed. Note that I say "believe", because I have absolutely no logical basis, just what feels "right" to me as a native speaker.
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 9:58
  • 1
    +1 for your first example and for finding varied references, but I agree with the other comment that the last two examples appear to me to be grammatically incorrect.
    – Nonnal
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:02
  • 1
    Right, I wouldn't say has passed myself, but apparently some people use it, even in books. It seems there's a shift to treating such time expression as a unit more frequently. I'm not sure. Here's an Ngram, for what it's worth: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – A.P.
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:03
  • 1
    @Nonnal how about "a good 40 years has passed"? Sounds perfectly normal to me. Perhaps because the implication of "a period of time" is more clear here.
    – A.P.
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:06
  • 1
    @AndyT The rules conflict here. The pull of proximity agreement ('... years have passed') is strong enough to make that form acceptable here (but not with 'sixty dollars are too much to charge for a ticket'), but notional agreement ('... after [a period of] three years has passed') is totally acceptable (and obligatory in some cases, as with the $60 example). Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:13

It depends on whether you're looking at the forty years as one time interval or forty distinct units of time strung together.

More than forty years have passed since the March on Washington. (units of time)

Yes, but:

Forty years is a long time. (one interval)

  • Interesting... Do you have a reference for "units of time" vs "one interval" reasoning? Or it is more of a gut feeling?
    – A.P.
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 9:59
  • Maybe it's because "a long time" is singular, therefore that makes forty years a singular interval?
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:07
  • @A.P.: I believe I read something to that effect on the Web once. I can't remember where or why. Many grammar rules strike me as forced. Each time they mention "gerund" on this site, I have to look it up. I can memorize a three-page-long, well-written poem in under an hour, but I've been struggling with the definition of "gerund," whatever the hell it is, for many years now.
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:08
  • @Ricky The best treatment of the complexities of the verb ... noun gradience of ing-form usages that I know of is given by Quirk et al in ACGEL. Here is a link to Phil White's comments on the subject at Wordwizard. (You may find good reasons to avoid the term 'gerund' as being ill-defined.) Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:22
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth: Please don't take anything I say seriously.
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:50

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.