I was just copyediting somebody's answer on another SE site and my native English speaker Sprachgefühl told me I had to correct the grammar of one sentence:

... 5–6 weeks are a lot of time ...

by changing the are to is. But as I was doing so I started wondering why is it that in this case it seems that I have to make the verb disagree with the plural subject?

So is my feeling for English going bad or if I did the right thing, how could I explain this to somebody who's learning English for instance?

  • 5
    It's not just time. Fifty to sixty miles is a long way to come. Fifty kilos is a lot to carry. May 12, 2012 at 17:24
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    possible duplicate of "Years of experience that keeps us safe." vs "Years of experience that keep us safe.". Except in that one you could make a case for singular or plural - but in this one there's no choice because a lot of time is singular, and the verb must agree with that. May 12, 2012 at 17:26
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    @hippietrail,Shyam: I overstated my case. I don't have a problem with crosswords are a good {singular noun phrase}. I suspect most people wouldn't much like any variant of "[a] crossword[s] is a game|are games". It's a gray area where there can't really be a "grammatical rule" because whatever the rule said, some people wouldn't like to apply it (in some contexts, at least). May 13, 2012 at 14:48
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    @Shyam: There are other words in English which work this way: "Marbles is a game.", "Dominoes is a game.", "Dungeons and Dragons is a game.", etc. May 17, 2012 at 12:33
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    @hippietrail: and to complicate things, consider "Marbles is a game where marbles are laid out in a circular area."
    – horatio
    May 17, 2012 at 16:13

3 Answers 3


Use is because you're talking about a single period of time with a range-based duration.

There are extensive discussions of the subtleties of Collective Nouns and Mass Nouns on Wikipedia that explain from a technical perspective why some seemingly plural things are treated as singular grammatically.

  • So this is one way in which a phrase can look plural but be grammatically singular? May 12, 2012 at 17:12
  • @hippietrail - Absolutely. It works too when the plural thing is a class of objects, i.e. when the subject is the class as a whole, not the individual instances within the class.
    – Joel Brown
    May 12, 2012 at 17:14
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    @Joel: I don't understand your comment. I don't think you'd say "trees is" under any circumstances, even if you're talking about trees as a class as a whole. May 12, 2012 at 17:32
  • @PeterShor - Fair enough - I was referring specifically to collective nouns and mass nouns. For example you wouldn't say "the forest are obscuring those trees" even though a forest is a collection of trees. Similarly, for example, cutlery (collectively) is made of metal.
    – Joel Brown
    May 12, 2012 at 18:07
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    This has nothing to do with collective or mass nouns. @hippietrail you should accept Peter Shor's answer. Consider five weeks is a long time to wait for a taxi. There is no collective noun in that sentence, just a single quantity of time whose duration happens to be something other than one unit.
    – phoog
    Sep 7, 2018 at 18:44

You use the singular because it's a quantity of time. From this website

Quantities or measurements of time, money, distance, weight usually take singular verbs.

It's not just restricted to time, money, distance and weight;

Fifty milliamps is enough to kill a man.
Three G is enough to make a pilot black out.


It should be is because you take the time collectively, so it's singular.

See 'Making Subjects and Verbs Agree', Item# 10 at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/

  • Number 10 has nothing to do with the question; it's only talking about people. Further, it's inconsistent. If someone says "The crew are preparing to dock the ship," they will also say "My family have never been able to agree" (I believe these two sentences can have either a plural or a singular verb in American English). May 12, 2012 at 17:25
  • @Peter Shor That is explained in the same place, as well.
    – Kris
    May 17, 2012 at 7:31

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