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I understand that some nouns can only take the plural form (glasses, shorts, jeans, etc.) and so they take a plural verb. But in a sentence like "the back of his pants..." or "the side of his glasses...", should a singular or plural verb follow?

In this book I read, the author used "the back of his pants were bloody" instead of was, and when I googled "the side of my glasses," the first thing that came up was "the side of my glasses are bent," but I would have thought that it should be a singular verb instead because the subject should be "the back" or "the side," rather than "his pants" or "his glasses," similar to how "a pair of glasses" is followed by "is" because the subject is "pair." Or am I mistaken?

Edit: This question is unrelated to words that indicate portions, e.g. a number of, a lot of, a majority of, some of, all of, etc.

  • Seems clear to me that it should be singular, but I'll watch to see if anyone disagrees – Unrelated Jan 10 '17 at 20:15
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    @Laurel: except "a number of" is not the same as "the back of" – sumelic Jan 10 '17 at 20:19
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    @Laurel This is different to the non-count quantificational noun "number". – BillJ Jan 10 '17 at 20:21
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    Note that "pair" is actually fairly frequently plural. Not usually in "pair of glasses", but e.g. "the pair of them were" is more common than "The pair of them was". – sumelic Jan 10 '17 at 20:28
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    Whichever sounds better. The back of one's pants presumably includes the entire backside of the pants (thus encompassing the whole pair) while the side of one's glasses presumably refers to only one side, so I would go with are and is in your two sentences. But the overwhelming "pluralness" of both pants and glasses can tilt one to choose a plural verb to go in an adjacent position to either. – AmE speaker Jan 11 '17 at 0:46
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In English, when there are fractional expressions such as a half of, a part of, a percentage of, a majority of, a third of, etc., the verb agreement depends on the plurality of the nouns that follow them. For example:

50% (A half, A third, A part, etc.) of the university was destroyed by fire. (Not were because university is singular.)

50% (A half, A third, A part, etc.) of the parents were at the meeting. (Not was because parents are plural.)

[Examples are from Subject-Verb Agreement at elc.polyu.edu.hk]

If you change the word back to "back part (of his pants)" or "back half (of his pants)", the two phrases contain the words part and half and the rule applies. Therefore, the verb should agree to pants, not to back.

However, the word side seems trickier than back in "the back of his pants". A pair of glasses has only two sides and if it is the one side of the two sides which is bent, it should use a singular verb as in

The side of my glasses is bent.

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    +1 but what about "the back of his pants"? I'm not clear on that. – NVZ Jan 12 '17 at 4:10
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No, you’re not by any means mistaken. The book’s author and the Googled answer are mistaken. Meanwhile, there’s some over-engineering going on above.

user140086 was making a case until ‘side’ became trickier but precisely as a pair of glasses has ‘only’ two sides, a pair of pants has ‘only’ two faces: back and front. (Did anyone think three, five or 17 sides could have made a grammatical difference?)

Clearly, the subjects are indeed ‘the back’ or ‘the side’, not ‘his pants’ or ‘his glasses.’ A part is one thing, a portion quite another.

Finish thinking about how if you change the word back to "back part (of his pants)" or "back half (of his pants)", the two phrases contain the words part and half and the rule applies… It does, but which rule?

‘The back half of his pants are…’ sounds no worse than ambiguous but we’ve just seen ‘half’ equated with ‘part’, haven’t we?

Is it - could it ever be - right to use ‘the back part (of his pants) are…’?

Of course the verb should agree with the subject but the subject is clearly ‘the back part (of…)’ and not by any stretch of the imagination ‘his pants’.

The relationships between parts or sides of pants or glasses and percentages or fractions of universities or groups of parents are not comparable; the limited extent to which might they have been arithmetically similar is completely over-ridden by their obvious linguistic differences.

A side or a part, in the sense of pants, is clearly both countable and capable of independent existence.

A percentage or fraction of a university or group of parents is clearly countable only as a portion of the whole, and cable of independent existence only as a ruin or sub-group. What place does transubstantiation have in grammar?

Clearly ‘the back of one's pants’ includes the entire backside and more clearly, that can’t come close to ‘encompassing the whole pair’. To exactly the extent that ‘the back…’ includes the entire backside of the pants (thus encompassing the whole pair) so ‘the front…’ includes the entire frontside of the pants (thus encompassing the whole pair). Equally clearly, they cancel each other out, removing the pants and all their parts from further perusal.

‘The back pocket of my pants is torn’ is correct and should be obviously so. ’The back of my pants are wet’ apparently sounds reasonable to some; it sounds risible to me. A pocket can’t be relevant. A pocket is no more a part of a pair of pants than a button or a bow. Both equate to the add-on extras we might find on a car; neither to the car itself.

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