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One in six people struggles to read.


One in six people struggle to read.

"One in six" is singular, naturally, but "one in six people" clearly amounts to a huge number. Should the verb thus be singular or plural, please?

As a corollary, I could imagine the sentence being qualified thus:

One in six people (11 million in the UK alone) struggle to read.

Certainly, to my ear at least, the latter would thus "sound" more natural.

Thanks in advance.

marked as duplicate by sumelic, Community Feb 1 '18 at 10:11

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I'd say that it's plural, and hence "struggle" not "struggles". You're not talking about individual people, even though it has the word "one" in it.

As you say, you're talking about a large group of people. "One in six" here is equivalent to saying "18 percent of", and you would definitely use the plural in that case.

I thought it might be interesting to come up with a sample bit of text which uses both the plural and singular. How about

"One in six people in the UK struggle to read. Of course, anyone struggles to read in some circumstances, for example during a powercut, when they can't find their glasses, or when they're too young."

  • My instinct would be to use the singular, but Googling "one in ten people" suggests that I'm in the minority. – Kate Bunting Feb 1 '18 at 9:11
  • Thank you to Max, Kate and everyone else who took the time to respond. – Marvin Simons Feb 1 '18 at 10:11

One in six people struggle(s) to read.

Both singular and plural are fine.

In this particular proportional construction, the head is the plural "people" and thus one would expect plural agreement. But singular override is also possible, and is clearly motivated by the presence of singular "one".

But in other proportional constructions, only singular agreement is possible:

One person in a hundred struggles to read.

In a hundred people, only one struggles to read.

  • 1
    @Araucaria Done! – BillJ Mar 6 '18 at 14:39

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