I'm not sure if the subject is the total (in which case it would be "there is") or the vehicles (in which case it would be "there are").

I suppose another option would be to remove "total of" from the sentence, but assuming that "total of" is left in, I'd like to know what the proper wording would be.

  • In my idiolect it should be "is," because "of 378 vehicles" modifies "total," which is the complement of the verb. But many people seem to see "a total of" as a modifier of "378 vehicles," so they see "378 vehicles" as the complement of the verb and say "are." Consult your favorite style guide; it ought to weigh in one way or another on this question. – phoog Jan 22 '16 at 17:51
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    There's only one total. – Hot Licks Jan 22 '16 at 20:18
  • A related question here: english.stackexchange.com/q/8545/2705 – Jimi Oke Jan 23 '16 at 3:15

These Google Ngrams appear to show that

(1) both variants are in use

(2) the “there are a total of" version is about twice as common

(3) popularity has reversed since about 1970.

People answering 'it should be ...' are choosing one of the conflicting 'rules' rather than another (and results show that they're hardly worthy of the name 'rule').

“There is a total of 378 vehicles” uses what is known as 'grammatical concord' (there being a single total).

“There are a total of 378 vehicles” uses (at least equally correct) notional concord; compare 'If a majority of the members vote for the bill ...'. I'd consider 'There is a total of 378 vehicles waiting for replacement timer chains' extremely awkward to unacceptable. 'There are a total of ...' is idiomatic for 'There are, in total, ...' when used with further expressions such as 'waiting for replacement timer chains' or 'which need new tyres'.

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The answer is There is a total... The rest of that sentence is a prepositional phrase.

The philosophical question is whether you should use what prescriptivist grammar rules state, or what descriptivist linguists state. Both will be understood, but if your question is about the rules of grammar, the answer is is.

To avoid questions about subject-verb agreement, the sentence would have to be reworded, and most likely "a total of" would have to be eliminated.

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