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The largest number of cows are running for the hills.

The largest number of cows is running for the hills.

According to various free online grammar checkers both forms are correct.

My interpretation is that the "are" version refers to the cows, whereas the "is" version refers to the number or quantity.

"Cows are running for the hills" vs. "The largest number is running for the hills".

Is this too subtle a distinction?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, David, curiousdannii, Nigel J, Skooba Feb 5 '18 at 14:24

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Sort of. In natural english, both forms are awkward, and spoken aloud would gather a few eyebrow raises.

Grammatically speaking, "the largest number" is the subject of the sentence, and "of cows" is an adjectival clause, therefore, the adverb ("is") remains singular.

However, even though this is grammatically correct, it would not be natural for a native speaker.

Using "The largest number" is an issue. Depending on what you're going for, "a swarm of" would work; if it's colloquial, "an insane amount"; or if it's formal, "a huge number".

Below is a list of alternatives, with their score in terms of natural English in brackets.

• A huge number of cows is running for the hills (5/10)

• A swarm of cows is running for the hills (9/10)

• Cows are running for the hills in massive numbers (7/10)

• Cows are running for the hills in staggering amounts (8/10)

Some of the wording is switched around so the intended message may not get across in some of them. Hopefully one will work; otherwise your sentence may sound quite jarring.

  • That was your first answer here? Your answer is spot on and I trust the questioner will appreciate your effort to provide a detailed and well-written explanation. Keep coming bacK! I gave it the first Up Vote. :) – Ross Murray Feb 4 '18 at 10:44
  • How was the "score in terms of natural English" obtained? – KarlG Feb 4 '18 at 12:51
  • Thanks for the answer. I am intrigued as to how this natural English score was produced. – martin's Feb 4 '18 at 17:25
  • @KarlG In all honesty, it's a matter of how it sounds, just as a native speaker. It's based on which phrases are more commonly heard than others, as well as the sentence structure used. I'm not sure that there's a proper way to grammatically prove this, aside from going through each and explaining which parts of the sentence make it sound better and why; which I could do, but I'm unsure if this would solve the issue or just make the answer more lengthy. – Anu Coralie Feb 5 '18 at 9:57

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