a (or the) world of

is defined in Oxford as follows:

A very great deal of.

‘there's a world of difference between being alone and being lonely’

‘a bit of country air will do her the world of good’

I think the world of should be treated differently, so I'd like to focus on a world of.

Although the Oxford Dictionary says a world of means 'a very great deal of' and the phrase should be singular in that meaning, I've seen a world of followed by a plural noun. And when it's followed by a plural noun, I think it often means 'a great number of'.

The problem is, there is conflicting evidence as to whether a world of followed by a plural noun is singular or plural:

  • And with the collapse of those ''walls'', a world of opportunities is opening before us.
    (SADCC at Ten, Address to the Tenth Anniversary Summit, Gaborone, Botswana. 24 August 1990. Published in The Missing Headlines: Selected Speeches, by Emeka Anyaoku)

  • You've not yet developed notions of what you can and can't do (or what you should or shouldn't have done), and a world of opportunities is opening before you. (Confined Minds, by Raychelle Meyers, p. 25)

  • A world of opportunities are out there for you. (The Strength of a Woman: Transformed for Greater Impact, by Claudia L. Roach)

Since 'a world of' here means 'a lot of', I'd think the plural treatment is more frequent, but the opposite seems to be the case. There seem to be more instances of the singular treatment.

So should 'a world of opportunities' be treated as singular?

How about this case?

This morning saw Jay-Z release his surprise new album ‘4:44‘ across all streaming services except Spotify – and a world of fans take note of the freestyle rap by his daughter Blue Ivy Carter. Check out the best reactions and the lyrics below. ("Fans react to Blue Ivy’s freestyle rap on Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’", by Andrew Trendell, NME Music News)

Here, too, 'a world of fans' I think means 'a lot of fans', but is followed by a plural form 'take'. Do you think this is incorrect? Or should it be treated differently? I for one think the plural treatment is correct, because it's the individual fans who take note, not the world itself.


This question is not solved by an earlier question, "Is “an ocean of flowers” singular or plural?", where only two answers are provided and no answer is selected.

Moreover, the answer with most votes (2 votes) in that question seems to approve the plural treatment of 'an ocean of flowers', whereas my research about 'a world of opportunities' suggests that the singular treatment is more often than the plural treatment.

Most importantly, the earlier question and answers do not address cases where "an ocean of" is followed by a plural noun denoting people, which is raised as an important point in this question.

  • 1
  • Yes, I agree. I retracted my vote to close as the OP's edit convinced me that this is a different concept.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 7:49
  • @RobbieGoodwin I'm not sure what you mean by "Worlds, oceans, etc are strictly singular". Aren't worlds and oceans in their plural forms treated as plural?
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 2:17
  • 1
    Could someone explain how this is different from any singular-or-plural query, please? World, ocean, etc are strictly singular and context can give precedence to their referents and make the whole phrase plural… as we see with teams or companies, countries, gangs or armies. What’s this “the world of should be treated differently” and how could either world be followed by a singular noun? Will we next be looking at whether a world of colour is different from a world of colours? Is a bouquet or bunch grammatically different from a world of flowers… or flora? Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 23:10
  • 1
    @RobbieGoodwin Really? So, I must be hallucinating to see both Google News ( goo.gl/yLcqZ7 ) and Google Books ( goo.gl/tdyDj7 ) show a bunch of There are a bunch of opportunities but not a single instance of There is a bunch of opportunities.
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 3:10

4 Answers 4


I haven't seen specific guidance on this, but I wanted to make an answer post to address something I think was missed in the list of examples in your question.

And with the collapse of those ''walls'', a world of opportunities is opening before us.

Here, it's not necessarily the case that "a world of opportunities" is just being used as a synonymous expression for "a lot of opportunities". The noun world in English can be used metaphorically to talk about a environment or ecosystem: access to a new "world of opportunities" isn't necessarily just access to greater quantities of the same kinds of opportunities that were already available.

The interpretation of "world" as a noun with actual semantic meaning beyond "a great quantity" in this speech is supported by the context. Anyaoku's speech continues in the following way:

Opportunities not just to put a definitive end to the "armed peace" and its incalculable wastage of resources, both human and material, but also opportunities to step up the fight against humanity's enemies, old and new; political instability and local conflicts; hunger and disease; drugs and the deteriorating environment. It promises to be an exciting world but it will not be all sweetness and light.

Note that the word "world" occurs again in a context where it is not followed by "of", and where it unambiguously acts as the head of a singular noun phrase.

I think a good first step when analyzing an expression of the form "a world of [plural noun]" is to check whether it makes sense as a noun phrase headed by the noun "world" (which has metaphorical senses that don't just express quantity). This is basically the same as checking to see whether a phrase like "an ocean of flowers" is being used to refer to a literal ocean, in which case it would obviously take singular agreement: it's a bit more difficult for world because its meaning as a noun is more abstract, but I think the same principle applies to both.


An ocean is definable. It has boundaries. Therefore an ocean of anything is still singular no matter what is contained within the ocean. An 'ocean of poppies' is therefore singular.

A world is not definable. The earth is, for it is a definable sphere. But 'world' has no boundaries.

The 'whole world' is definable for that concept encompasses everything that exists of that kind that is being discussed. Therefore it is singular.

The 'whole world of artistic endeavour' is singular. It is a single entity.

But 'a world of carpenters were flocking in the auditorium' conveys a plural concept that is not definable by 'world'. Here 'world' is just an expression like 'some' or 'many' or 'a huge number of'.

  • By 'definable', do you mean 'having a boundary'? If so, I'm not sure why you say 'world' is not definable when you can say "a world".
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 7:57
  • @NigelJ Can you find any dictionary definitions of any sense of either world or ocean as being "uncountable" or "mass". Without that I would feel compelled to to treat even 'a world of carpenters' as singular DESPITE the apparent common sense in your argument it is not. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 8:11
  • BTW, I'm planning on upgrading my OED. I'm waiting on a reply from UOP advising which of the OED and Shorter OED are longer. Do you know? There is nowhere I could buy one where I live in Indonesia. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 8:17
  • @RossMurray Sorry, I cannot answer your question on OED. As a UK citizen I get online access free of charge to OED through our national library service, so I do not have my own copy.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 17:02
  • @RossMurray enquire at your nearest library if they provide acess to the OED to their members. I know that Indonesia has many ex-pats so you might be in luck. The annual subscription fee to the OED online is exorbitant For an annual rate of $295, you’ll have full unrestricted access to the OED Online. I believe the OED no longer prints the 20 volume set.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 10:31

According to CMOS 5.9, if you consider 'ocean' to be a mass noun then:
the ocean of something(s) is singular because the number of the phrase is controlled by the mass noun.
an ocean of something(s) is singular or plural depending on something(s) because the number of the phrase is controlled by the object of the preposition.
[I only have a print version of previous edition. It would be nice if someone else could post what the current edition says here.]

In most senses, 'ocean' is a countable, not a mass noun. However, it has all the qualities of a mass noun in 'an ocean of flowers'.

My OALD does not define this sense of 'ocean' to determine whether they assess it as countable or uncountable (a mass noun).

In the absence of a dictionary definition that this particular sense of ocean is countable, I would treat the phrase as plural.

Examining my OALD more closely, it lists one singular and one countable sense of 'ocean'. I conclude it is countable in this sense and would now treat the phrase as singular.

  • 1
    Actually, my question is not about 'an ocean of' or 'the ocean of'. It's about 'a world of + plural noun'. And I'm not sure 'a world of' should be treated exactly like 'an ocean of', especially considering @Nigel J's answer.
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 7:55
  • I was actually just examining my OALD definition of world. It lists many sense but defines none as uncountable. It has this idiom "a/the ˈworld of difference (informal) used to emphasize how much difference there is between two things, e.g. There's a world of difference between liking someone and loving them." // I am now convinced 'world of' is singular - DESPITE my high level of trust in almost everything I have seen NigelJ post here. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 8:03
  • There's a world of difference between an "ocean" and a "world". If you're replying to Nigel's post please clearly state so in the answer. Your answer confused me until I read the comments, so that why it's -1 from me
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 10:25
  • What pluralizes the verb is not the plural noun after of. It's the first noun: An ocean of [whatever] + singular verb because of an ocean. The noun following of is not what makes it plural.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 20:26
  • Except when in "a noun of "[noun] means MANY. Then, the verb is plural. A bunch of, a ton of, a mountain of, etc. etc. etc.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 21:41

In simlper terms, world of is an idiomatic expression that is a singular noun phrase. However, a plural verb may appear when the elements of the "mass" are referenced rather than the mass-noun per se cf. "the police is vs. the police are".

  • 1
    What do you mean by cf. "the police is vs. the police are"? I don't think native speakers would treat "police" as singular with or without "the".
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 15:33
  • @JK2 See related earlier posts on these same pages. Oh yes, they do.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 10:19
  • 1
    I don't think so, unless perhaps you speak Indian English. Please see this post: english.stackexchange.com/questions/96179/…
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 10:24

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