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I got really confused reading conflicting grammar rules for sentences such as below:

  • First one:

    A number of people is/are going to the party.

    Here, the subject is "A number". Since "A number" is plural, the the correct answer must be

    A number of people are going to the party.

  • Second one:

    His collections of music is/are good.

    Here, the subject is "Collections of music". Since "collections" is a plural, the correct answer must be:

    His collections of music are good.

  • Third one:

    His collection of music is/are good.

    Going by my previous rule, since the subject here is "collection of music", which is singular, the correct answer must be:

    His collection of music is good

But I have seen answers that state the right answer to the second one is "His collections of music is good".

Can someone please elucidate this?

Thanks in advance!

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Skooba, Dan Bron, Glorfindel, tchrist Mar 26 '17 at 15:08

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  • 1
    Something is wrong here: "Since 'A number' is plural, the the correct answer must be: A number of people are going to the party." A number is singular, but 'A number of people' means many people, plural. Also, who says "His collections of music is good"? It is not right. – Yosef Baskin Mar 24 '17 at 16:37
  • 1
    @YosefBaskin I might have an impressive classical collection at my mansion and an impressive punk rock collection on my yacht. Then you could say that my collections were impressive. – Davo Mar 24 '17 at 16:54
  • 1
    @Davo - Yes. collections were impressive, not 'is good.' – Yosef Baskin Mar 24 '17 at 16:56
  • 1
    "Number" is a number-transparent quantificational noun, which means that the number of the whole NP is determined by the complement of the preposition "of", which in this case is the plural noun "people". The meaning of "number" is such that it permits only plural obliques and hence the verb will always be plural. – BillJ Mar 24 '17 at 17:51

For the first one, the subject of the sentence is the whole noun phrase a number of people, in which a number of collectively acts as a determiner - a class of words that includes the articles a, an, and the as well as words such as many, most, and every - and people is the head word, which is the root noun which is being modified by the rest of the phrase. Compare to other sentences using related noun phrases with different determiners - for example, you wouldn't think twice about the correctness of "Several people are going to the party" or "Beautiful people are going to the party."

You can also verify this by noting that removing people from the sentence leaves you with "A number of is going to the party" - a nonsense sentence - whereas removing a number of leaves you with the workable sentence "People are going to the party." Even if you take out the of as well, to get "A number is going to the party," it still doesn't make sense unless you're living in some kind of cartoon world; it conjures up images of an anthropomorphic number 7 as the guest of honor.

For the second and third, you're in the right. "His collections are good" and "His collection is good" are the correct forms. My only guess for why you might have seen otherwise is that maybe someone misread the second statement and didn't notice that collections was pluralized, as one normally refers to the entirety of a person's music library as a singular collection.

  • 2
    That's not the case: The subject is the NP "a number of people". "Number" is not a determiner but a quantificational noun functioning as head of the NP. The PP "of people" serves as complement to "number". "Number" is number-transparent meaning that the number of the whole NP is determined by the complement of the preposition "of", which in this case is the plural noun "people". The meaning of "number" is such that it permits only plural obliques and hence the verb will always be plural. – BillJ Mar 24 '17 at 17:53
  • You need to add an authoritative reference when making such authoritative-sounding claims in an 'answer' on ELU. (For BillJ's responses, always assume Huddleston & Pullum.) – Edwin Ashworth Mar 24 '17 at 19:30
  • @BillJ Yes, the whole construction is a noun phrase, but "a number of" is serving the role of determiner; you can replace it with a synonym like "some," "several," or "many" to see that. The head word of the NP is "people" - that's the word that determines the appropriate syntax. That was the reason I called "people" the subject, though I suppose it could cause some slight confusion, so I've edited my answer for clarity. – Daniel Wakefield Mar 24 '17 at 19:44
  • I don't agree. As I explained, the head is "number" and "of people" is complement. The fact that you can also say "many people" is not relevant; it is just a different construction. Number-transparent quantificational nouns like "number" get their number agreement from the noun that is complement to "of". It's no different to "lot" in "A lot of errors were made" / "A lot of work was done". Again the quantificational noun "lot" is head, and "of errors/ work" is complement . You might take a look at this: link – BillJ Mar 24 '17 at 19:58
  • The link provided is just a dictionary definition of "number" which happens to mention the existence of phrases such as "a number of" being equivalent to "several" or "many." More useful was the source that @EdwinAshworth suggested. I concede that you do have a source on your side, and I can't find any others (at least not in a printed book) that explicitly address this type of phrase. – Daniel Wakefield Mar 24 '17 at 20:42

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