There was/were an average of ...

panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
Reviewing a report today I came across a sentence something like this:
'In 2001 there was an average of 34 incidents in Belfast per week.'
My initial reaction was that this ought to be:
'In 2001 there were an average of 34 incidents in Belfast per week.'

Then I realised that the original author, if he thought about it at all, had felt uncomfortable with the plural verb and the singular article.
If I had been the original author, I would have written "were", or changed the sentence structure.
I'm interested in the views of the WR panel :)
 
  • PStorm

    Member
    Portuguese - Portugal
    I'd use "there was", because it is referring to an average, not to the accidents (which would be "there were 34 accidents").
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    Neither of them work for me. Which is to say that I don't fully understand the first. (But I think yours is worse.)

    'There were on average 34 incidents per week.
    ' Is that what was meant?

    ADDED: Is it the annual number of incidents divided by fifty-two i.e the weekly average? If so, there was only one of them, in 2001.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Either is justifiable. The number is more than one, however it's expressed:

    There were about/roughly 34 incidents
    There were no more than 34 incidents
    There were at least 34 incidents
    There were on average 34 incidents

    Some quantified phrases are headed by a singular noun, but that doesn't mean the verb has to agree with this noun:

    There :tick:were/:cross:was a lot of incidents
    There :tick:were/:cross:was a number of incidents

    'Average' and 'total' are not words that are always transparent to agreement, the way 'number' and 'lot' are, so either formal or semantic agreement should be possible:

    There were/was an average of 34 incidents
    There were/was a total of 34 incidents
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ...

    'Average' and 'total' are not words that are always transparent to agreement, the way 'number' and 'lot' are, so either formal or semantic agreement should be possible:

    There were/was an average of 34 incidents
    There were/was a total of 34 incidents
    Perhaps if the focus of the discussion is statistical, so that it is the average that is important, then a singular verb would make sense.
    If the focus is in the number of incidents then a plural verb is better.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    My initial reaction was "I'm with panj - I'd definitely say were".

    I've dithered a bit since, but I'm now back to my initial reaction: I'd see There were an average of 34 incidents as being equivalent to There were on average 34 incidents.

    (I think....:))
     

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    Excuse my curiosity.

    If it is used as a subject, which agreement is selected?

    An average of 34 incidents was/were recorded during the week.

    Is anyone there who uses 'was'?

    Thanks in advance.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    For me: An average of 34 incidents was recorded during the week. - of 34 incidents merely qualifies 'an average'
     

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    Thank you, PaulQ.

    You think that 'an average' is a subject and 'of 34 incidents' is just a adjective phrase.

    Is there anyone who think 'an average of ' is just a adjective phrase and '34 incidents' is a subject?

    Thanks in advance.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Thank you, PaulQ.

    You think that 'an average' is a subject and 'of 34 incidents' is just a adjective phrase.

    Is there anyone who think 'an average of ' is just a adjective phrase and '34 incidents' is a subject?

    I seriously doubt that anyone will be led down the path of transforming an object of a preposition into a subject.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    If it is used as a subject, which agreement is selected?

    An average of 34 incidents was/were recorded during the week.

    Is anyone there who uses 'was'?
    I would avoid saying it this way, taked: it sounds awkward to me with both "was" and "were":(.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    'Average' and 'total' are not words that are always transparent to agreement, the way 'number' and 'lot' are, so either formal or semantic agreement should be possible:
    I don't agree - I'm sure that examples of both can be found but that merely demonstrates that the construction is confused (as Loob hints) with "on average" by some people. There would appear to be no real reason why an average and a total should be anything other than singular.

    An average/total of 34 incidents makes this the worst week in history.

    An average/total of this magnitude makes this the worst week in history.

    On average/in total, the 34 incidents makeø this the worst week in history.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I don't agree - I'm sure that examples of both can be found but that merely demonstrates that the construction is confused (as Loob hints) with "on average" by some people.
    Oh, I don't confuse it with "on average", Paul - nor was I hinting that other people do.

    Etb's rationale is helpful, I think.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Oh, I don't confuse it with "on average", Paul
    I didn't say you did - but I thought that
    I'd see There were an average of 34 incidents as being equivalent to There were on average 34 incidents.
    was a hint as to the easy confusion; a theory I support.
    Etb's rationale is helpful, I think.
    Maybe, in some ways... but it does not explain why it is so, it just says it is, so it's not really a theory, more something less than a conjecture.

    On the other hand, your example gives a possible, and, to my mind, credible, reason.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Erm ... I'm not sure whether you misinterpreted what I said or I'm misinterpreting what you're saying:(.

    For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that I agree with etb: both There were an average of 34 incidents and There was an average of 34 incidents are possible. I would, however be more likely to use the first.

    I would also be more likely to say There were a total of 34 incidents in Belfast last week than There was a total of 34 incidents....
     
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