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When the spokeswoman declared the results of the second ballot in the UK Tory leadership race, she said:" ...The total number of votes given to each candidate in alphabetical order were as follows:xxx,41;xxx, 46; ...".

Should the were be was?

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  • This is surprisingly tricky. Even if we strip out the issue with votes being plural, something like "The salary for each position is as follows: <position> -- <salary>; <position> -- <salary>" is rather awkward . . . but "are" is much worse. – ruakh Jun 19 '19 at 2:34
  • And why past tense? You'd normally say the results still stand in the present, right? – JJJ Jun 19 '19 at 3:37
  • @JJJ Not necessarily, because the giving of the votes happened in the past. It's perfectly normal, and the formula used by returning officers in national elections. – Andrew Leach Jun 19 '19 at 6:23
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    She treats "number" as number-transparent, which means that the whole noun phrase takes on the number of the noun that is complement of the preposition "of", which in this case is the plural "votes". – Robby zhu Nov 16 '19 at 7:44
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The phrase "the total number of votes" can usually take either singular or plural aggreement, with different dialects splitting the usage differently depending on context. However, there is something else going on here. The predicate "given to each candidate" clearly requires that there are more than one "total number of votes". So plural is strongly indicated. While the construction is entirely idiomatic as written, there is an option available to make the plural choice more obvious. One could use numbers instead of number.

the total numbers of flights by different airlines between two specific cities in the past month ...

From Chegg Study textbook Solutions

...

the total numbers of bacteria in different samples tested ...

From Annual Report of the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station ..., Issue 15

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From Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 51

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  • Please link and attribute properly. Use say [NZ Penal Data for Boys](htt....=false). Then the outrageous address is masked. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 16 '19 at 18:31
  • Much more reader-friendly. For an upvote (at least one), is there any evidence to support ' The phrase "the total number of votes" can usually take either singular or plural aggreement, with different dialects splitting the usage differently depending on context.'? – Edwin Ashworth Nov 17 '19 at 13:29
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Native speakers are surprisingly incompetent grammarians when it comes to the subject-verb agreement, especially when it's spoken English. I suspect this is one of those cases where 'were' is erroneously used instead of 'was'.

Specifically, the grammatical number of the subject 'The total number of votes given to each candidate in alphabetical order' is determined by the singular 'number', but the speaker mistakenly felt that the plural 'votes' determines its grammatical number due to the rather long intervening participial phrase 'given to each candidate in alphabetical order'.

That said, 'were' could have been used in a different sentence:

" ...The total numbers of votes given to the candidates in alphabetical order were as follows:xxx,41;xxx, 46; ...".

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  • 1 whatever native speakers say is grammatical (tchrist has established this elsewhere on this site) , 2 grammaticality is based on usage – Arm the good guys in America Nov 16 '19 at 6:25
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    @green_ideas Native speakers do make isolated mistakes. And those isolated mistakes cannot be considered established usage. The question is whether the OP's sentence is established as usage, which I highly doubt. – JK2 Nov 16 '19 at 7:42
  • It is not true that whatever native speakers or write is grammatical.There must be some standdard for non-native speakers or native speakers – successive suspension Nov 16 '19 at 14:50
  • the sentence in question demonstrates subject-verb accord, so what's the "mistake" ? – Arm the good guys in America Nov 16 '19 at 15:13
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A number of is treated as plural because it means several or many.

The number of is treated as singular because it refers to the number1, 10, 1000 etc.

The use of each candidate or even all the candidates can not prevent us from using the singular verb was in the sentence

Here is a link which shows the use of the number of

https://thegrammarexchange.infopop.cc/topic/a-number-of-and-the-number-of

I think the correct verb required in the sentence might be was.

She said, the total number of votes given to each candidate in alphabetical order was as follows.

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