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Trying to work out whether to use 'is' or 'are' in the following sentences (aware they might differ):

How many grams of flour is/are on the scale?
How many centilitres of cough syrup are/is in the measuring cup?
How many kilograms of fruit are/is on the scale?

'Are' seems most natural to me when speaking, but have read that units of measurement are usually counted as singular amongst the scientific community.

Looking for UK English rules :)

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  • Does this answer your question? Plural/singular verb agreement with units ... ect's answer includes << Units of measure are treated as collective nouns, taking a singular verb. • For each patient, 10 mL of whole blood was collected in a clot tube. [Penn State: Effective ... Oct 10, 2023 at 11:05
  • Technical Writing] >> This extends to the 'how many ...?' questions; if considered clumsy-sounding, rephrase ('How much flour is [there] / What is the weight of the flour on the scale, etc). Think of '*How many miles are it to Jerusalem?' Oct 10, 2023 at 11:05
  • To me, plural sounds more natural following "how many", which is almost always followed by a countable plural noun - but I don't have a citation to back that up. (You could say "How much flour, in grams, is on the scale?" if you preferred.)
    – Stuart F
    Oct 10, 2023 at 11:07
  • @Stuart F *How many miles are it to Jerusalem?' Other quantities are relatively rare after 'how many ...', so sound odd. Oct 10, 2023 at 11:09
  • Granted "How many miles are it" is bad (but "How many miles are there to go?" is better) but I still prefer "How many grams of flour are..." It seems a bit awkward but I can't think of a better way to ask "how many grams" - unless you rephrase like "How many grams of flour do you want?" "How many grams of flour have you put on the scale?"
    – Stuart F
    Oct 10, 2023 at 11:10

1 Answer 1

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Summarising discussion:

(1) Plural/singular verb agreement with units: ect's answer at this related question includes

  • Units of measure are treated as collective nouns [in the US usually are], taking a singular verb.

              • For each patient, 10 mL of whole blood was collected in a clot tube.                                                                                    [Penn State: Effective technical Writing]

Here, notional agreement (10 ml being a single quantity / sample) is accepted on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • $10 / £9 seems a reasonable price.
  • 20 meters / 20 metres is too long. I'll use the 5m cable.

(2) This notional agreement extends to the 'how many ...?' questions, though less strictly – doubtless because of the pull of proximity agreement as a singular verb form may sound distinctly jarring. Raw Google results for "How many grams of flour is" outweigh those for "How many grams of flour are" by more than 3 : 1. 'How many grams of flour are 100ml?', with a parallel measure as complement (arguably subject) sounds awful. ('How many grams of flour are equal to / correspond to / are (or is) the same as 100ml?' sound far more natural.) And '*How many miles are it to Jerusalem?' is unacceptable (though 'How many miles are left?' sounds far more natural).

So, there is divided usage, and each case must be considered separately. If considered clumsy-sounding (or of course outlandish), rephrase ('How much flour is [there] / What is the weight of the flour on the scale?', etc).

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