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What is the subject-verb agreement for the phrase "A greater number of"?

I came across this sentence and am confused.

A greater number of cycles with paracetamol is associated with increased risk of ...

  • "Number" is a number-transparent non-count here where agreement depends on the number of the oblique. Since "number" selects only plural obliques, the verb should be plural. Note, though, that if "number" is preceded by "the", things are different and it takes a singular verb. – BillJ Dec 29 '17 at 10:10
  • A greater number of migratory birds on the lake means clean-up efforts have been successful. So there are your oblique birds plurally on the lake quite happy with their singular verb, because the greater number of them is a single fact from which I'm drawing a conclusion. – KarlG Dec 29 '17 at 10:31
  • 'A greater number of cycles with paracetamol is associated ...' is a shorter form of 'The occurrence / administering of a greater number of cycles with paracetamol is associated ...' or the like. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '17 at 12:16
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It could be either, depending on whether you're looking at 'one' greater number of things, or looking through it to the 'greater number' of them.

  • A greater number of students have phones now.
  • A greater number of cycles per second requires a faster reaction time.

In your example, use is if the association is with the increased number of cycles (it's saying that since there are more cycles, risk has also increased). If you're saying that more of those cycles are associated with the increased risk - that is, the association is between the cycles and the risks, use are (it's saying that more of the cycles are associated with increased risk).

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    You make a good point. – tchrist Dec 29 '17 at 10:04
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    I don't agree. Agreement depends on the noun that is complement of "of". As it happens, "number" selects only plural obliques, so the verb should always be plural. Note that if "number" is preceded by "the", things are different and it takes a singular verb. – BillJ Dec 29 '17 at 10:08
  • @BillJ Your statement was exactly my doubt. – Maria Rubina Dec 29 '17 at 10:10
  • @tchrist Thank you. Your answer gave me pause, though. I was focusing on the 'greater' part and hadn't fully considered the case with a bare 'number'. – Lawrence Dec 29 '17 at 10:10
  • @BillJ If we generalise your 'the' proviso to 'any determiner' (such as 'greater'), we'd agree on the reaction time example. But we might then disagree on the phone example. – Lawrence Dec 29 '17 at 10:25
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Most people would say are there so that the cycles are the risk, because normally a number of counts as a premodifier the same way a lot of or a great many does, and such things no more count for determining whether the verb should be singular or plural than the word some would.

Right

  1. A number of my friends have told me they’re coming.

Wrong

  1. A number of my friends *has told me they’re coming.
  2. A number of my friends *has told me *he’s coming.
  3. A number of my friends *has told me *it’s coming.

I’ve prefixed each wrong word above with an asterisk.

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