Ten messages <is><are> a lot.

ParamDas

Member
India - Hindi
I find myself oftentimes confused about whether I should be using singular or plural in the simpler versions of numeral+noun constructions. Certain uncountable numeral+noun constructions would, of course, take a singular because we are thinking of them as continuous rather than discrete units. For example:

100 dollars is not a lot of money --> here it doesn't make sense to treat "dollars" countably
or
5 hours isn't a lot of time ---> same as (1)

However, even for seemingly countable nouns, sometimes we can consider them one unit. For example:

5 bottles of beer is a lot; we can't consume so much alcohol.

or

Why did you gift me 50 apples? This is a lot.

or

10 messages//responses to 1 initial text is a lot; please send me fewer messages

Now, in the above sentences, it would make a bit more sense to treat apples, messages, and bottles as individual units, unlike in (1) and (2); can we still use the singular verbs in these cases or must we use a plural in formal English?
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The way I think of this is that the predicate is not true of the individual ones. If five bottles of beer are in the cupboard, then one bottle is there, the second bottle is also there, and so on for all five bottles. But it's not true that each bottle of beer is a lot to drink. It's only when you group them together as five bottles that they are a lot. So it's only the whole quantity that is a lot: five bottles is a lot to drink.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    There is a standing question in English. On supermarket check-outs, there is usually one check-out with a sign for people who do not have many items. It says

    "10 items or fewer"
    or it says
    "10 items or less"

    Both are correct:
    "10 items or fewer items"
    or it says
    "10 items or less than 10 items"

    You need to understand what you are saying when you say
    100 dollars is not a lot of money -> the amount that is mentioned, i.e. 100 dollars, is not a lot of money
    5 hours isn't a lot of time - The duration of 5 hours isn't a lot of time.

    Thus

    Why did you give me 50 apples? That number/amount is a lot.

    10 responses to an initial text are a lot of responses; please send me fewer responses.
    10
    responses to an initial text is a lot; please send me less than 10
     

    ParamDas

    Member
    India - Hindi
    The way I think of this is that the predicate is not true of the individual ones. If five bottles of beer are in the cupboard, then one bottle is there, the second bottle is also there, and so on for all five bottles. But it's not true that each bottle of beer is a lot to drink. It's only when you group them together as five bottles that they are a lot. So it's only the whole quantity that is a lot: five bottles is a lot to drink.
    @entangledbank -- Noted, thank you for the explanation. I had a follow-up -- how does this idea work with negative verbs? For example, 5 cans of beer isn't a lot.

    If I were to apply the individual vs collective idea to this, can't I go "1 beer isn't a lot", "the second beer isn't a lot", and so on? In this case, thus, even if I were considering the quantity, the predicate would be true for each individual subject. Is my understanding correct? Thank you for your time and explanation.
     

    ParamDas

    Member
    India - Hindi
    There is a standing question in English. On supermarket check-outs, there is usually one check-out with a sign for people who do not have many items. It says

    "10 items or fewer"
    or it says
    "10 items or less"

    Both are correct:
    "10 items or fewer items"
    or it says
    "10 items or less than 10 items"

    You need to understand what you are saying when you say
    100 dollars is not a lot of money -> the amount that is mentioned, i.e. 100 dollars, is not a lot of money
    5 hours isn't a lot of time - The duration of 5 hours isn't a lot of time.

    Thus

    Why did you give me 50 apples? That number/amount is a lot.

    10 responses to an initial text are a lot of responses; please send me fewer responses.
    10
    responses to an initial text is a lot; please send me less than 10
    Noted, @PaulQ, and thank you for your explanation. However, for separate, boundary-delineated entities, can I use "less" in such contexts? I can imagine using less when quantities of those individual entities have decreased, but if the entities themselves are removed from the set, doesn't treating them countably seem to be better?

    For example,

    Less of such chemicals are now being emitted at the factory -- this would be reasonable enough if the idea was that the number of chemicals is still the same, but the quantity/volume of each individual chemical has reduced.

    Or,

    I will have less of such problems in the future -- here, my interpretation would be that I would face the same problems, except that the magnitude of such issues would be lower.

    For "less than 10 items//less than 10 messages", this idea of quantification doesn't quite sync with the above logic. I can only have an integer number of items/messages -- i.e, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. I can't have 1.5 items/messages, as I can with, say dollars, hours, (amount of) chemicals, and so on.

    Could you please elaborate on whether my line of reasoning is correct? Thank you for your time and explanation :)
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    For example,

    Less of such chemicals are now being emitted at the factory (A smaller amount of the same chemicals)
    You are asking "less" to do too much work here. Your example would work in a formal academic document in which the reader could be trusted to read carefully and look for such distinctions. In normal life, people do not do this and you should replace "less" by "lower amounts."
    I will have less of such problems in the future -- here, my interpretation would be that I would face the same problems, except that the magnitude of such issues would be lower.
    That would be a wrong use of "less" -> "I will have lesser of such problems in the future":tick: However, that construction is awkward and to express your idea you would say "Such problems will be smaller/less difficult in the future." or "I will have less of a problem in future".

    You will note that there is no unit of measurement for problems, and this becomes significant.
    For "less than 10 items//less than 10 messages", this idea of quantification doesn't quite sync with the above logic. I can only have an integer number of items/messages -- i.e, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. I can't have 1.5 items/messages, as I can with, say dollars, hours, (amount of) chemicals, and so on.
    :) That is a fair stance to take and hence the argument about "10 items or fewer" / "10 items or less." This argument will not be resolved in our lifetime.

    Less is used with {number + unit of measurement} and uncountable nouns, i.e. measured quantities and volumes: "Less than 20 litres remained." / We noted that there was less alcohol in the mixture."

    Fewer is used with an absolute number "Fewer than 10 people remained." "I only saw five cars - fewer than I had expected.

    The difficulty comes in interpreting what is a unit of measurement: compare the bolded text - is "people" a unit of measurement? Are we discussing numbers or amounts? - It is not always clear.
     
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