43

Take the examples:

  1. "One in ten children are dyslexic."
  2. "One in ten children is dyslexic."

  3. "One in ten children has dyslexia."

  4. "One in ten children have dyslexia."

The "one" is singular so 2 and 3 should be correct. But the "one in ten" is a fraction" so 1 and 4 should be correct. And yet I think I usually say 1 and 3. Which is/are correct?!

10 Answers 10

19

Both are commonly used and acceptable.

There are various common cases where a superficially singular subject can or indeed must be associated with a plural verb:

The government [are/is] considering the proposal.

A lot of these matters [have/*has] been dealt with.

The majority [are/??is] pleased with the outcome.

A half of all pensioners [are/??is] living below the poverty line.

In the case you mention, a plural verb is probably at least equally common nowadays as a singular, though historically a singular verb appears to have been more common (e.g. do some comparisons on Google NGram: the singular verb appears to have undergone a downward trend over the last couple of centuries).

You will find prescriptivists bemoaning the apparent contradiction of a singular noun accompanied by a plural verb. But there's really no God-given reason to expect the verb to agree necessarily with the head noun and actual data clearly contradicts this assumption. As is usually the case, the prescriptivists are inventing a problem because their grammatical model is inadequate.

  • 4
    "A half of all" sounds odd to me. I'd only ever say "Half of all", and it would take a plural verb. – Marthaª Apr 17 '12 at 15:15
  • 7
    The government is, A lot of these matters have, The majority are (unless you're talking about a political group, which is treated as singular "The majority is trying to persuade the minority as to the blah blah blah), A half of all pensioners are. – zzzzBov Apr 17 '12 at 15:26
  • 4
    @zzzzBov That sounds like you are touching on a British-ism: "IBM are..." (British) vs "IBM is..." (American) and so forth. To me, an American, the former sounds very strange. – Mei Apr 17 '12 at 16:48
  • 5
    I'm sorry, I'm really not seeing this. "in ten children" is a prepositional phrase. "Children" is the object of the preposition. "One" is the subject. "One" is, rather obviously, singular. What am I missing here...? – Adam Robinson Apr 17 '12 at 19:06
  • 6
    @AdamRobinson, as the OP pointed out, [one] [in ten children] is not the only reasonable way to parse this sentence; [one in ten] [children] is also a reasonable parse (and IMO, the latter is much more reasonable, since what the phrase really means is "10% of children"). – Ben Lee Apr 20 '12 at 21:32
17

In data analyzed for the ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ on constructions with one in or one out of followed by a number, plural agreement predominated. ‘The Cambridge Grammar of English Usage’, which quotes this finding, comments that ‘For most writers the choice depends on whether you’re thinking of a single case or a general principle.’

  • 3
    Could you try to find some illustrative examples? – Kris Apr 17 '12 at 16:07
12

"One in ten children" may be a fraction, but you are still talking about one child, even as a generality. Out of group of ten children at random, you are considering just one. The singular is/has is appropriate.

If you were to say "10% of children"or "a tenth of all children", then you are talking about a general group of children and the plural are/have is appropriate.

  • 10
    I'm afraid language doesn't care about logic like that. (As you can see from Neil's examples, and from your very own "a tenth of all children" where it's painfully obvious that a tenth is actually singular, yet you admit that plural is appropriate.) "One in ten" is not to be confused with "one in ten somethings" or "one something in ten". They can, and do, behave differently. – RegDwigнt Apr 17 '12 at 14:59
  • 5
    For what it's worth, when you say "one in ten children" I would posit that you are usually talking about "ten per cent of children", not "one specific child out of a specific group of ten". (If you say e.g. "one out of the ten children surveyed", then that's different.) But of course, the syntax of the language doesn't care whether or not you can come up for a rationalisation in any case. – Neil Coffey Apr 17 '12 at 18:18
  • 1
    Two in twenty are [foo]. How should one in ten be any different? – fluffy Apr 17 '12 at 18:30
  • 1
    @AdamRobinson But the thing isn't modifying the word "one," it's modifying the phrase "one in ten," which is potentially plural. – fluffy Apr 17 '12 at 23:02
  • 3
    Or look at it another way: labels like "singular", "present", "masculine" etc are just rough arbitrary labels invented by human beings. Just because we choose to arbitrarily label something as "singular", "accusative", "future" etc doesn't mean that the language will for some reason magically re-configure itself to match our arbitrary label-- it could just be that our label is inaccurate. – Neil Coffey Apr 17 '12 at 23:08
10

I think an alternative is:

One child in ten is dyslexic.

versus

One child in ten are dyslexic.

which seems to be incorrect. This puts the emphasis on the fact that there is one child, which is singular, that makes the verb be is rather than are.

2

I searched the New York Times's database for the phrase "one in ten" (note, the numbers are written as words), excluding modal and regular verbs used in the past tense that do not differentiate between singular and plural subjects, I did not find the phrase used with a plural verb until after 2010.

  1. ONE IN TEN A PATIENT.; Dr. Briggs Tells Mental Trouble Increase in Massachusetts.
    BOSTON, Nov. 9.--One person in every twenty who dies in Massachusetts dies in a State institution, and one in every ten, at some time or another, enters an insane or feeble-minded hospital,… [November 10, 1921]

  2. FLORIDA REFUGEES NOW ARRIVING HERE
    “Every building in Fort Lauderdale is damaged,” Pope said, “and a hasty survey leads me to believe that not more than one in ten has been left standing. Only the most substantial houses stood up. Most houses are wrecks and many others have lost their roofs.
    [September 22, 1926]

  3. ONE IN TEN OF MANKIND IS NOW A RADIO LISTENER
    GENEVA. THE world's radio listeners now number 200,000,000, or one in ten of mankind, according to an estimate in Radiodiffusion, … [December 01, 1935]

  4. 1940 CENSUS FOUND ONE IN TEN JOBLESS; 5,110,000 Idle Out of Labor Force of 52,840,000 -- Women Gain Among 'New Workers'
    WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 -- One out of every ten workers of a total labor force of 52,840,000 in the United States was unemployed when the census was taken on March 30. About one out of every twenty of those working was reported to be employed by the Federal Government… [January 06, 1941]

  5. HEALTH PLAN HELD VAGUE TO DOCTORS; Ewing Says Not One in Ten Knows What President's Program Proposes
    WASHINGTON, Jan. 26—Oscar R. Ewing, Federal Security Administrator, said today President Truman's health insurance plan was basically different from the British system, which he recently studied at first-hand. [JAN. 27, 1950]

  6. One in Ten Shoppers Is a Shoplifter
    The team reported that one of every 10 of the shoppers walked out again with merchandise she did not pay for. (Overwhelmingly, shoplifters are she's.) [MARCH 15, 1970]

  7. How Will Europe Pay for Its Oil?
    Perhaps even more than the United States, the economy of Europe is powered by the automobile. One in ten jobs is dependent, directly or indirectly, on the health of this industry. Auto sales are off sharply–there was a slump of about 50 per cent in Germany in December–and manufacturers in one country… [January 20, 1974]

  8. Put More Teeth in Parole
    In theory, a prisoner released on parole is closely supervised and will be thrown back in prison if he violates the conditions of parole. But the public and many ex-cons regard supervision of parolees with cynicism. Parole officers' caseloads are heavy; supervision degenerates over time. Parolees perceive release as freedom, not as supervised release. One in ten absconds. [November 17, 1987]

  9. A LOWLY FISH GOES UPSCALE
    THE NEXT TIME YOU SIT DOWN TO A SEAFOOD dinner consider this: The chances are one in ten that what's in front of you was raised on a farm. According to the Fisheries Institute, aquaculture accounts for nearly all of the rainbow trout sold commercially in this country. [ December 4, 1988]

Examples, where a plural verb is (rarely) used.

  1. Is Poverty a Kind of Robbery?
    …in 2011 low food security was a problem for just under one in eight whites — a matter of concern but for many white voters, a virtually invisible issue. Very low food security affects the lives of only one in 24 whites.
    For African Americans, low food security is a problem affecting one in four, and one in ten experience very low food security. [SEPTEMBER 16, 2012 11:57 PM]

  2. MacArthur Foundation Picks Eight Projects That Could Change the World
    “For the one in ten Americans who lack health insurance and need specialty care, the options are limited: pay out of pocket or delay treatment,” the foundation said.
    [FEB. 15, 2017]

  • Different newspapers may have different style guides. From The Guardian: One in 10 crimes recorded by police are domestic abuse cases. – Peter Shor Nov 17 '17 at 13:21
  • @PeterShor it took me a couple of hours searching through the NYT archives, and even finding that last example was more of a fluke. I can't go searching through every newspaper :) I'm sure nowadays the plural verb is often used in constructions such as "one in twenty" etc., I was interested in seeing whether a reputable American newspaper, such as NYT, followed this trend (and I also have a paid subscription). – Mari-Lou A Nov 17 '17 at 13:22
  • Of course you can't search every newspaper. I'm trying to point out that The New York Times (or any one newspaper) is not a typical sample of educated American prose – newspapers generally have style guides which the writers and copyeditors try to conform to, and I wouldn't be surprised if the NYT style guide addresses this question. – Peter Shor Nov 17 '17 at 13:24
0

I think it actually depends on the first number. If it is more than 1, then answers 1 and 4 should be used. If only one member of the set may fulfil the condition then 2 and 3.

0

User F.E. posted some relevant information in the comments to a question about a similar dilemma between two patterns of subject-verb agreement:

  1. Only one out of three respondents (29%) thinks otherwise.
  2. Only one out of three respondents (29%) think otherwise.

I wanted to reproduce these comments here to increase their visibility.

  • First of all, the subject isn't singular. The subject is a NP that has a plural head [...] both #1 and #2 versions are considered to be acceptable in today's standard English (according to the 2002 H&P's CGEL). – F.E. Jul 2 '15 at 18:12 




  • Basically the answer is this: Your sentence involves a proportional construction. Because the head ("respondents") of your subject is plural, that allows the plural verb ("think"); but due to the presence of "one", the optional singular override is also allowed which allows the singular verb ("thinks"). So, both plural and singular verbs are acceptable in your example sentence.

    – F.E. Jul 2 '15 at 19:59

This explanation seems to apply equally to "One in ten children are dyslexic" vs. "One in ten children is dyslexic."

F.E. also left similar comments beneath the question "one in four kids": has or have? that have a few more details:

  • Both versions are acceptable and are standard English. For more info, there's the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), page 504, in the section on proportional constructions, example [15.iii] "One in a hundred students takes/take drugs."

    – F.E. Feb 19 '15 at 20:49

  • Let me give you a brief explanation on your example. "Did you know [ (that) 1 in 4 kids has/have an undetected vision problem] ?" has a subordinate clause ("[ (that) 1 in 4 kids … problem]") and the subject of that subordinate clause is the noun phrase "one in four kids". The subject is plural in number due to the plural head "kids" and that supports a plural verb ("have"), but the singular "one" within the subject allows the optional singular override ("has").

    – F.E. Feb 19 '15 at 21:32

-3

is

Without doubt it is is.

compare:

One tenth of the students are ...

One in ten students is ...

[Edit] Specific case of one tenth of a set of ten students is an anomaly. (!)

  • 15
    Without a doubt, you should provide some support for your answer. – Kit Z. Fox Apr 17 '12 at 14:36
  • The enthusiastic down voters may kindly offer their valuable comments now. Comments is no place for a debate, though. – Kris Apr 17 '12 at 16:05
  • 2
    You are all missing the ironic humor in Kris's response! One tenth is also a single object. One tenth of a pizza is a narrow slice. – Kaz Apr 17 '12 at 21:05
  • 2
    @Kaz: Yeah, i missed the joke. Silly me, expecting humor to be funny. :) – cHao Apr 17 '12 at 21:13
  • 2
    I tried using 'A tenth' in place of 'One tenth', and the plural sounded better. But the phrase 'One in ten students' sounds like a contraction of 'One student in every ten students', and seems like I'm talking about the student I had in mind (out of a hypothetical ten). I therefore favour the singular here. This is my own preference--not a rule. Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves (as one in ten commenters are likely to say). – Steve Powell Apr 18 '12 at 12:00
-3

definitely 1 in 10 is, because you're assuming the subject is singluar.

E.G.

one in ten entities is... would make sense

one in ten entities are... would not make sense

because this would indicate that the single entity you are singling out is plural.

-3

"are" is better.

One in ten, implies, one x in every ten from a collection of x'es greater than 10.

So if you have fifty pupils in a class and one in ten cannot spell, Then there are 5 pupils who cannot spell.

If a class always consisted of ten pupils then you would say "one pupil cannot spell" as the "one in ten" construct would be superfluous.

  • 1
    "One in ten cannot spell". "Five students out of fifty cannot spell" There is no singular or plural version of "can" so your example is moot (this ought to explain the down-votes). – Mari-Lou A Sep 12 '13 at 6:25

protected by user2683 Apr 18 '12 at 16:39

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.