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"Nearly 21% of the land is now national parks"

This really confuses me. A part of the "land" "IS" "parkS"?! Shouldn't it be like "21% of the lands are now parks"?

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    The verb is governed by the complement of the prep "of", which in this case is the singular non-count "land", and hence must be singular "is". Also, it's okay here to use a plural predicative complement with a singular subject (cf. my favourite breakfast is bacon and eggs"). You could also say "21% of the land consists of national parks". – BillJ Jun 5 '17 at 11:10
  • @BillJ what about "my favourite breakfast is eggs"? That's not correct, is it? – Ithilel Jun 5 '17 at 12:07
  • @Ithilel Of course it is! – AleksandrH Jun 5 '17 at 12:22
  • @Ithilel Yes, it's fine. – BillJ Jun 5 '17 at 12:22
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    There is nothing wrong with the sequence of words "is parks". In a sentence with an inflected form of "to be", the grammatical number of the verb depends on the subject. "Parks" is not the subject of this sentence. See Agreement in “(Singular Noun) Is/Are (Plural Noun)”? for more examples of grammatically correct sentences of this type, like "My fish's native habitat is rice fields." – sumelic Jun 8 '17 at 3:22
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It's simply because "land" acts as a collective noun / general noun in this sentence. Compare it to the sentence:

50% of the population is in poverty

It would not make sense to say "are" because there are not multiple "lands".

However, you could reorder the sentence to avoid the awkwardness:

National parks comprise nearly 21% of the land.

  • But we can't say "50% of the popular is doctors", can we? – Ithilel Jun 5 '17 at 12:05
  • In such a sentence, it would be more appropriate to say "50% of people are doctors". – AleksandrH Jun 5 '17 at 12:22
  • @Ithilel If "population" is considered a collective noun, then singular agreement can be overridden, as in "The population aren't going to like this". – BillJ Jun 5 '17 at 12:47
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I've learned that the way to decide whether to treat the subject as singular or plural is to consider the sentence without the "of " part. In this case, think "Nearly 21% is now national parks". The percentage is the subject of the sentence, not the land itself.

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Land is considered singular. Eg. The land is parched. Lands on the other hand is obviously plural. Eg. The tribal lands of the different tribes are considered sacred. Another example is sea. Eg. the sea is deep. The seven seas are far and wide.

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