Formally, is it correct to write:

A number of questions has been asked here.


A number of questions have been asked here.

As a non-native speaker of English, I would prefer the former: the subject seems to be "number", therefore the verb ought to be singular, I'd say. However, the latter seems more common, and therefore I believe that my gut feeling is just plain wrong — but I would really like to have a definite answer.

Moreover, is it the same for "a myriad of", "a plethora of", and so on?


2 Answers 2


"The number" is singular. "A number", however, is plural, and takes a plural verb. Thus, for both informal and formal usage, the following is correct:

A number of questions have been asked here.

See the usage note not quite halfway down the page at Dictionary.com, or this daily writing tip.

  • 1
    Thanks for this answer; it seems to be the only one that sticks to the actual facts!
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 18:28
  • 8
    I feel like this is implying that "A number" is always plural. It would make more sense to note that in this case, "questions" is the subject, and "a number" is describing the quantity (where "a number" really means "multiple"). You could remove the "A number of" entirely and still have a valid sentence: "Questions have been asked here."
    – KChaloux
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 16:52
  • 3
    While omitting modifiers can be helpful in analyzing a sentence, I don't think you can just drop any words you like and expect the remainder to have the same function as in the original sentence. Suppose someone wrote, "The dog next to the bushes are brown." If you drop out "the dog next to" leaving "The bushes are brown", then "are" is clearly correct, but that doesn't make the original sentence right!
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 15:13
  • 5
    Marvellous, Jay! Martha is wrong in saying that 'it's equally valid to remove the "questions" part'. A number of is a compound quantifier here, replaceable (syntactically) by several, many, seven, numerous, a lot of ... It isn't analytically correct to promote a quantifier / collective to the role of the subject noun it is modifying. It can be laughable semantically also: A raft of ideas has / have been assembled ---> ?!A raft has been assembled. Commented May 27, 2013 at 8:22
  • 2
    I'd like to tighten up the statement '"A number", however, is plural' to ' "A number", however, triggers plural agreement'. 'A number' is obviously singular in form; contrast 'There are three numbers that had cabalistic significance for the early inhabitants of Palain XII'. Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 11:54

Just looking at the words themselves, you would logically conclude that the former construction is preferable, but you're correct in observing that no one uses them that way, because they're wrong. Technically, yes, the subject is singular, but there are many phrases in English that are used to describe amount, such as "a lot", "a bunch", and "a few", which are singular but always used as though they were plural. It's neither colloquial nor informal to say "a number have been asked".

There is some disagreement on whether "none" should be used as singular or plural, since it was originally a contraction of the word for "not" and that for "one" or "any". Generally speaking, both "none is" and "none are" are correct, but the latter is, again, more common.

  • 9
    I think it is misleading to say that it is formally the former, because even if someone were writing a paper for a scientific journal they wouldn't write it that way. There is no circumstance or situation where the singular agreement would be correct, including formal situations.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 14:01
  • 1
    Agreed on all counts. Furthermore, the quantifiers you name ("a number", "a lot", "a bunch", etc.) are so strongly plural that they would take a plural verb even in the absence of a plural genitive of specification. e.g. "Someone brought cookies! A number have been eaten."
    – res
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 14:45
  • 5
    "A number... has been asked" is incorrect. In any context. Formally, informally, slangily, ultra-correctly, in every way you can think of, it should be "A number ... have been asked".
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 18:16
  • @Kosmonaut, @Martha: You're absolutely right. I meant formally in the sense of a formal grammar, which would assume that English is typed and "a number" is always just as singular as it looks. It was unclear from context, but I did go on to say "it's neither colloquial nor informal" to use them in the plural. Editing to clarify.
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 19:48
  • +1 for the edited answer, because it addresses the probable source of the confusion.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 22:50

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