200 job losses is/are not a price worth paying

Is the singular or plural form more appropriate here, considering job losses is plural and price is singular?

  • What are the subject and object here? Does the verb in a sentence usually agree with the subject or the object? Are there circumstances where that changes? Does this sentence match an exception circumstance, if there are any? Can you please show us what your own research turned up before you asked a bunch of strangers for their time and help? – Dan Bron Mar 25 '17 at 21:28
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    The grammatical number of "price" is irrelevant, since it is not the subject of the sentence. See the following post for more explanation: Agreement in “(Singular Noun) Is/Are (Plural Noun)”? But "is" might be acceptable for some speakers due to the principle of "notional agreement." – herisson Mar 25 '17 at 21:31
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    Singular agreement would be normal. Measure expressions like this are plural in form but the quantity expressed is conceptualised as a single abstract noun so the singular conceptualisation can override the plural form in determining the form of the verb. It's what's known as "singular override" – BillJ Mar 26 '17 at 8:59
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Mar 27 '17 at 12:03

There have been other threads on ELU which have addressed notional agreement, but perhaps this one merits/needs individual treatment.

Notional agreement is the prioritising of agreement of the verb say with the etic rather than the formal number of the subject.

Almost all people would choose notional agreement with

200 dollars is all I can afford.

40 miles is too much for us to walk in a single day.

Gin and tonic is my favourite drink.


Some people reject, others virtually insist on notional agreement with

England were beaten 1 - 0 this week. /

England was beaten 1 - 0 this week.

Though notional agreement and formal agreement both insist on

England has a very long coastline.

Again, some people reject, others accept notional agreement with

The staff is / are very friendly.


Notional agreement means:

choosing the singular verb-form where the subject is understood to be unitary even if not composed of a single element (a drink of gin and tonic, a distance of 40 miles, the country of England has a very long coastline, a health and safety policy ...)

but the plural verb-form where the subject is interpreted as consisting of discernable constituent parts (The players on the England team / England were beaten, the [members of the] staff are [all] very friendly ...).

Here, '200 job losses is/are not a price worth paying' is a rather unusual string. But it must surely be considered to correspond more closely to '$200 is not a price worth paying' than '200 jobs are lost each month'. Contrast '[The fact of] 200 job losses is unacceptable' with '200 job losses are unacceptable [but the other 33 are OK]'.

  • Can you link me to the definition of etic you're employing in your 2nd para, the one which contrasts with notional agreement. The only etic I'm familiar with is the other half of the anthropological pair emic and etic. – Dan Bron Mar 25 '17 at 23:03
  • M-W gives etic: 'of, relating to, or involving analysis of cultural phenomena [inc language] from the perspective of one who does not participate in the culture being studied'. The usage to distinguish 'plural because that's the way the referent must be considered rather than plural form because that's what we've always used' is probably best illustrated in this Wikipedia article.... – Edwin Ashworth Mar 25 '17 at 23:12
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    Yes, that's the etic I knew from college anthropology. Glad to know I wasn't missing out on a new meaning. Now I'll have to read the WP article to see how it metaphorically extends to mean "plural because that's the way he referent must be considered". Thanks. – Dan Bron Mar 25 '17 at 23:16
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    'Etic' and 'formal' considerations in language rarely lead to conflicts, but it's tricky when they do. 'Furniture' is etically plural but formally singular and given singular agreement. 'Police' is etically plural, formally singular, but given plural agreement. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 25 '17 at 23:17
  • ...Note that neither 'furniture' nor 'police' are grammatically singular; they're both non-count in normal usage. 'Formally singular' means 'having the form of a singular [noun]'. 'Furnitures' is plural in form (and is used in rare cases: countification allows 'the furnitures of France and Spain', where 'furnitures' is both of plural form and a plural noun). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 26 '17 at 0:13

A rewrite is in order.

The loss of 200 jobs is not worth the price.

I find the construction you are attempting to use difficult to follow no matter which variation of the verb you choose.

The loss here is singular, in the sense of it being an aggregation of something(s). What is being aggregated here is the jobs that are being lost.

Another rewrite would bear the plural verb.

200 job losses are not worth the price.

In that case, the objection I have is the idiom used in the object. I think that holds true in both examples I have provided. "Paying the price" is something I don't think fits in this sentence as the price is being estimated and negotiated, and not being delivered.

Here is paying the price being used properly.

I was paying the price after I tried a bicycle kick for the first time.

In this case, the price is being delivered after the soccer player made his decision and carried out his choice.

I hope this helps.

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    Singular override is normal. It's no different to "Ten days is a long time to be on your own" or "Another three eggs is all we need". – BillJ Mar 26 '17 at 9:03

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