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Recently I've come across the question in a book that says

How many stations is it?

I thought the correct way to ask the question is

How many stations are there?

Can you please tell me which is correct and explain the difference between the two?

  • Can you please edit your question and provide the complete sentence? – Mick Dec 28 '16 at 10:14
  • Hello, the question is about train stations, and I am interested to find out if you use "is" or "are"? And why. Thank you – Anna Dec 28 '16 at 10:15
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    The answer depends on the context. It can be either. – Mick Dec 28 '16 at 10:19
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    'How many stations are there [on the Jubilee Line]?' shows the default plural agreement. 'How many stations is it before we reach Wigan?' might be considered acceptable, the intervening stations being grouped into a notional single concept. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '16 at 10:28
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Strictly speaking, you need "how many stations are there" to be grammatically correct:

  • How many stations are there on the line?
  • How many stations are there until we arrive at London?

However, it is idiomatic (in BrE) to use "how many stations is it" in certain circumstances:

  • How many stations is it to London?

This has the same meaning as the second example above.

  • In fact, I think I would just say "How many stations to London?" – TrevorD Dec 28 '16 at 12:46
  • @TrevorD That would be more colloquial. – Mick Dec 28 '16 at 12:55
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    I agree! Substantiating your answer: one could argue that "How many stations is it to London?" is a contraction of "How many stations is the journey to London?", with the singular verb matching the singular journey. We would also say, "How many miles is it to London?" (whether referring to the rail route or a road route); again a contraction of "How many miles is the route/journey to ...". – TrevorD Dec 28 '16 at 13:14
  • @Mick I think TrevorD's point is correct. You have identified the contexts but he has explained the difference. It's not idiom - there are different subjects. in the one case, the stations, in the other, the journey. I think it is worth adding that distinction to the answer to better explain it. – GetzelR Dec 28 '16 at 13:41

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