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This question about how to choose a singular or plural verb for sentences with number as the subject has been asked a few times here. Nonetheless, will ask again for the following sentence:

The number of each type of fruit (apples, oranges, and bananas) is chosen based on the published price.

This answer The number of students is larger and this answer A number of questions have been asked describe that the definite article "the" indicates that a single number is chosen.

In this case, three numbers are being chosen: one number for each type of fruit.

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    Where "number" has the definite article, the subject NP is singular by virtue of having singular non-transparent "number" as head. By contrast, with the indefinite definite "a", "number" is transparent in that the number of the whole NP is determined by the number of the NP that is complement to the preposition "of"
    – BillJ
    Oct 23, 2023 at 6:26
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    Does this answer your question? A number of questions "has been" or "have been" asked? Oct 23, 2023 at 11:49
  • As Bill says. 'A number of' is a fixed phrase, a compound quantifier equivalent to 'several', 'some', or 'quite a few' and taking a plural verb form as plural numerals do. But in your example, 'number' is used independently. It can be modified by say 'actual' or 'final', and replaced (just about, though clunkily) by 'tally' or the noun 'count'. Identified (here, post-modified by of-phrases, though further context ('used in the recipe'?) is also required), it needs the definite article.... Oct 23, 2023 at 12:02
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    Here, 'The numbers of each type of fruit (apples, oranges, and bananas) are chosen based on the published price.' is also idiomatic. Your version uses the distributive singular instead. Oct 23, 2023 at 12:07
  • @EdwinAshworth -- this answers the "Why" part of the question. Is there a way to recast the sentence to emphasize that several numbers are chosen? (or is it clear enough?) (Can post a separate question, if this is straying too far from the posted question.)
    – user6546
    Oct 23, 2023 at 12:54

3 Answers 3

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The phrase of each type makes it singular ... there is only one number for each type of fruit.

Consider the phrase

One item of each type is needed to win.

Even though you need more than one item to win, the verb is singular because you only need one of each type.

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  • However, in 'You need three items to win.' the verb is still singular. Am not sure that this example addresses the question. Edwin Ashworth's comment about "distributive singular" seems to identify what is going on in the posted question.
    – user6546
    Oct 23, 2023 at 13:22
  • Consider, 'The number of apples, oranges, and bananas is 25, 12, and 6, respectively.' 'Of each type isn't present. Is the singular verb still correct?
    – user6546
    Oct 23, 2023 at 13:34
  • I fixed my answer. For your last question, I think you could either say the number of apples, oranges, and bananas is ... or the numbers of apples, oranges, and bananas are .... But "the number of each type of fruit" has to have a singular verb. Oct 23, 2023 at 14:06
  • of each type isn't what makes the verb singular but the article that appears before the word number ("a" or "the"). When choosing more than one of each type of fruit, they must be bruised if bananas, wormy if apples, or have a yellowish green rind if oranges.
    – TimR
    Oct 23, 2023 at 18:59
  • @TimR: The phrase of each type makes it singular in comparison with The numbers of apples, oranges, and bananas are chosen based on published prices. If you read the OP's question carefully, they ask why the verb isn't plural when there is clearly more than one number. Oct 24, 2023 at 1:29
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The number of boys in the class is larger than the number of girls, but a number of boys are being moved to another class where the opposite is the case.

The number of [plural noun] = the count or total (singular)

A number of [plural noun] = several of them (plural)

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  • In the example sentence, 'The number of each type of fruit (apples, oranges and bananas) is chosen based on the price.' the intent is to describe that three numbers are chosen. So, it isn't the total. Nonetheless, the singular verb is does seem appropriate. Not sure why.
    – user6546
    Oct 23, 2023 at 13:26
  • @user6546 N I'm not referring to the price total but to the number of each type of fruit, as the word total would be used informally in everyday conversation. I've explained to you why by including what the phrases "the number of" and "a number of" mean as used by native speakers. The former refers to the count (a single number) and the latter refers to several. "The number of items in a gross is 144. A number of students in class prefer a take-home exam."
    – TimR
    Oct 23, 2023 at 14:32
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Compare this pair:

[1] [A number of students] were arrested.

[2] [The number of students arrested] has not been revealed.

In [1] the indefinite article "a" indicates an imprecise number. "Number" is here a non-count quantificational noun, which is said to be number-transparent in that the number of the whole NP is determined not by the head but by the noun that is complement to "of". As it happens, in this use "number" permits only plural nouns as complement to "of", so the verb is always plural.

In [2], by contrast, the definite article "the" represents a precise number and hence the subject NP is singular by virtue of having singular non-transparent "number" as head.

Your example:

[3] The number of each type of fruit (apples, oranges, and bananas) is chosen based on the published price.

This is like [2] in that "number" is determined by the definite article "the" and is therefore non-transparent, meaning that singular "has" is correct.

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  • I don't think this really covers the issue in this case - one can replace the with a here without changing the semantics or the grammar. I think Peter's approach is more on track in that it looks at the entire partitive structure, of which the/a number seems to just be along for the ride. (I would use is chosen with *A number of each type of ...)
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 23, 2023 at 21:52
  • “Number” permits only plural obliques, partitive or non-partitive. "A number of each type were chosen ..." / "The number of each type was chosen ..."
    – BillJ
    Oct 24, 2023 at 10:32

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