A large quantity of books is/are interesting?

richardliu

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi to all,

I need native speakers' help!
A large quantity of books is/are interesting.
Which one should I choose, is or are?

Many thanks!
 
  • KeepinOn

    Senior Member
    US - English
    I'd say that singular would be used with "a large quantity of...". The question, though, is what makes a large quantity of books interesting?
     

    Elwintee

    Senior Member
    England English
    Hi to all,

    I need native speakers' help!
    A large quantity of books is/are interesting.
    Which one should I choose, is or are?

    Many thanks!
    The clue to the grammatical answer is in the word 'a'. This stands for 'one'. We wouldn't say "One of the men are :cross: bald".So your sentence breaks down into [A large quantity] of books [is]...
     

    richardliu

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The clue to the grammatical answer is in the word 'a'. This stands for 'one'. We wouldn't say "One of the men are :cross: bald".So your sentence breaks down into [A large quantity] of books [is]...
    But we do say "A large number of books are interesting." How come the clue to the grammatical answer shifts to "books" in this case?
    ;)
     

    Wil_Estel

    Senior Member
    But we do say "A large number of books are interesting." How come the clue to the grammatical answer shifts to "books" in this case?
    ;)
    Well, here is something interesting for you.

    A number of: "A number of books are interesting."
    The number of: "The number of books is interesting."

    I guess you just have to memorize these little rules.

    PS. The sentences are for grammatical purposes. I'm not aiming at meaningful sentences.
     
    Last edited:

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    But we do say "A large number of books are interesting." How come the clue to the grammatical answer shifts to "books" in this case?
    In English, when you have a noun phrase followed by a prepositional phrase that has a plural noun, in (at least) British English it sounds normal to make the verb agree in number with this noun rather than the original one, as the semantic idea of the thing being talked about is plural, while being grammatically singular. It's related to how we use agreement with singular nouns like government, police, army, committee.

    Normal agreement rules don't apply in this case, it's the most well known exception to the rule about verbs matching in number with nouns.
    This is what's called agreement with quantificational nouns in Linguistics. Here is a relevant page from "A student's introduction to English Grammar" detailing the issue with quantificational-noun agreement.

    As the book says, it's not normally considered correct to use the singular, even though it is the head of the noun, quoting the book:
    There are a few nouns expressing quantification which can occur in the singular as the head of the NP whose number for agreement purposes is determined by a smaller NP embedded within it.
    [...]
    Notice that each head is singular, but the form of the verb depends on the single underlined NP that is the complement of the preposition of.
     
    Last edited:

    Elwintee

    Senior Member
    England English
    Well, here is something interesting for you.

    A number of: "A number of books are interesting."
    The number of: "The number of books is interesting."

    I guess you just have to memorize these little rules.

    PS. The sentences are for grammatical purposes. I'm not aiming at meaningful sentences.
    Recent posts have moved the goalposts. The original sentence was "A large quantity of books is/are interesting". I suggest that there is a subtle difference between quantity and number. A quantity is, to me, a singular thing, whereas a number (although I concede it has 'a' in front of it) can be seen as plural.
    If we are going to talk about number, then I agree we can say "A number of the books are interesting" (meaning that some of them are, and some of them aren't). But please let's discuss the 'quantity' sentence, so as not to muddy the waters.
     

    richardliu

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    In English, when you have a noun phrase followed by a prepositional phrase that has a plural noun, in (at least) British English it sounds normal to make the verb agree in number with this noun rather than the original one, as the semantic idea of the thing being talked about is plural, while being grammatically singular. It's related to how we use agreement with singular nouns like government, police, army, committee.

    Normal agreement rules don't apply in this case, it's the most well known exception to the rule about verbs matching in number with nouns.
    This is what's called agreement with quantificational nouns in Linguistics. Here is a relevant page from "A student's introduction to English Grammar" detailing the issue with quantificational-noun agreement.

    As the book says, it's not normally considered correct to use the singular, even though it is the head of the noun, quoting the book:
    Nice explanation from the aspect of linguistic study. I myself got a master's degree in this field.
    Maybe, such kind of "ungrammatical phenomenon" can only find suffice explanation in terms of native speakers' speaking habits.
     

    richardliu

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    And I show my highest respect to all the friends involved in the discussion concerning this topic. I gained a lot from your words. Thanks!
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    Well, guys, I hope that A large quantity goes along with A great quantity and it should be


    A great quantity of people IS....

    I was amazed to see that Google gives only a few of "A great quantity of people IS" while it gives many more examples with "A great quantity of people ARE"

    I hope it should be IS anyway. Do you agree?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I was amazed to see that Google gives only a few of "A great quantity of people IS" while it gives many more examples with "A great quantity of people ARE"
    Four versus eighteen hits is very tiny. Neither expression is particularly natural so it's not surprising that the results are skewed towards the even more unnatural.
    "A great quantity of people" is the result of putting "a large number of people" through a meat grinder. ;)
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    When we think of "a lot of people" as meaning "a great many individuals," we use a plural verb.

    When we think of "a large group of people" as meaning "one great mass (made up of individuals)," we use a singular verb.

    I think "A great quantity of people" refers more naturally (although Myridon is right - it's not a common phrasing, and feels stilted) to several discrete individuals, not one large amount (of people). So I prefer it with a plural verb.

    But you could see it with a singular verb, if context necessitated: "An unexpectedly great quantity of people trying to purchase tickets online has caused the orchestra's website to crash."

    I don't think it matters what the individual words are. If the phrase "a large number of people" (or whatever) is referring to "many people," it feels plural. If it refers to "one large amount," it feels singular.
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    Hi to all,

    I need native speakers' help!
    A large quantity of books is/are interesting.
    Which one should I choose, is or are?

    Many thanks!
    In this particular instance, I would ask myself a question: Which is interesting here - the quantity or the books? I would say that it is definitely the books (plural), rather than the quantity.

    Wil-Estel's sentences back in #6 really make the same point.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    if you use A in the beginning you will have to use is. therefore A large quantity of books is interesting


    To start with, I find talking about a quantity of books (or any countable noun) very unnatural. But if one is happy about using "a quantity of + plural noun form, I can't see any difference between a quantity of books and a lot of books. I will need some convincing that it is incorrect to say "A lot of books are worthless drivel" or "A large number of people have forgotten that English sentences have to start with a capital letter". The fact is that strict grammar and logic often don't apply in English. I think a good grammar explanation was given in Alex's post.

    "A large/small quantity of" a countable/plural noun clearly means more than one of them. The idea that the verb has to be singular if the noun phrase starts with the indefinite aticle is clearly wrong. Do we say "A few people is unhappy"?



    Hermione
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I'm puzzled, and I ask a question suggested by KeepinOn's comment in post #2:

    The original sentence is ambiguous. What is interesting here? The fact of the large quantity? Or the content of the books?

    If the former, then the only situation that makes sense to me is the finding of an unusual number of books somewhere, and the sentence would likely be something like, "The large quantity of books is interesting."

    If it's the content, then I think we'd say, "A great number of books are interesting."
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    The original sentence is ambiguous. What is interesting here? The fact of the large quantity? Or the content of the books?

    If the former, then the only situation that makes sense to me is the finding of an unusual number of books somewhere, and the sentence would likely be something like, "The large quantity of books is interesting."

    If it's the content, then I think we'd say, "A great number of books are interesting."
    I agree completely.
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    The idea that the verb has to be singular if the noun phrase starts with the indefinite aticle is clearly wrong.
    This idea could be wrong if it existed. "A great number (of people)" clearly indicates that the verb should be plural even though the noun starts with the indefinite aticle.
     
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