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There are a number

March 10, 2013

I’m still marking a ton of essays, and in my feedback I keep catching myself writing things like: ‘There are a number of areas you could improve’ or ‘There were a number of points not fully developed’. Now, I do know that this is a mistake. There are a +singular noun just has to be wrong.I’d never say ‘There are a van parked outside my house’, ‘or ‘There were a jellyfish in the rockpool’. And the word number is, of course, a singular noun. No one would say ‘There are a number on the front of my running-vest.’

But when a number is directly followed by a plural noun, the pull is just too strong to resist. I can’t bring myself to correct those feedback comments to ‘There is a number of areas you could improve’, etc. It just sounds prissy and pedantic.

A similar state of affairs obtains with the word none. It would be correct to say, for instance,  There are several football clubs in the south-west but none is in the Premiership, since none means not one. But would anyone actually say that? You have to weigh up being correct against sounding natural, and sometimes sounding natural wins. 

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One Comment
  1. R Schechter permalink

    You, my friend, are out of the Pedant Society (but I agree).

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