three quarters of .... verb (singular or plural)

elshan1980

Senior Member
Azerbaijani
Hi, everybody!

I have a question about subject-verb agreement.

In our model test, I came across the following sentence:

Three quarters of the mail are in English.


I say that it must be is instead of are, because of the uncountable noun mail.
It could be are, if we put plural nouns instead of singular one.
Am I right?

Thanks in advance
Elshan

 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    My instinct is to use IS there.

    I'm not sure of the exact reason, but I am sure your choice of verb is correct!
     

    Qualityservant

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    Sorry, but the sentence is correct. You are right to say that is is correct with the noncountable word "mail." However, using "three quarters" changes the noncountable "mail" to mean the countable plural "letters or packages," making are ​the required usage.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Sorry, but the sentence is correct. You are right to say that is is correct with the noncountable word "mail." However, using "three quarters" changes the noncountable "mail" to mean the countable plural "letters or packages," making are ​the required usage.
    I am not convinced by this argument, but then the question of agreements in this sort of context is highly debated. I think it depends which authority you consult, to be honest.
    Would you say all of the mail are delivered on time?:cross:
    100% of the mail are delivered on time? :cross:
    75% of the mail is delivered on time. :tick:
    Three quarters of the mail is delivered on time.:tick:
    Changing the modifier doesn't make me want to change the verb from singular to plural.

    Edit to add icons to clarify my view on right/wrong here.
     
    Last edited:

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    However, using "three quarters" changes the noncountable "mail" to mean the countable plural "letters or packages," making are ​the required usage.
    No, it doesn't. Saying three quarters of the applesauce doesn't change it back into apples, does it? ;)
     

    elshan1980

    Senior Member
    Azerbaijani
    As Oxford Guide to English Grammar says

    After a fraction, the verb agrees with the following noun, e.g. potato, plants.
    Three quarters (of a potato) is water.
    Almost half (the plants) were killed.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    As Oxford Guide to English Grammar says

    After a fraction, the verb agrees with the following noun, e.g. potato, plants.
    Three quarters (of a potato) is water.
    Almost half (the plants) were killed.
    That seems a good authority, especially since it agrees with us!
     

    Qualityservant

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    That seems a good authority, especially since it agrees with us!

    As Oxford Guide to English Grammar says

    After a fraction, the verb agrees with the following noun, e.g. potato, plants.
    Three quarters (of a potato) is water.
    Almost half (the plants) were killed.


    My original answer of using the plural "are" with "three quarters" is such based solely on its context used to reflect the proper subject object agreement.. The Oxford Guide is also showing this agreement in its context used: Three quarters agrees with the noncountable "water" because that is what the fraction refers to. Again: Almost half agrees with "killed" using the plural because the reference is to the plural "plants." Another example: Almost half (the sugar) was wasted. In this case, Almost half agrees with "wasted" using the singular "was" because its reference is to the noncountable "sugar."

    You all bring up great arguments, and I see that we all agree.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I see you dont even agree on the meaning of the word disagreement!

    There is an argument, because you and I do not agree on the verb form to use in this case.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Three-quarters of the audience are listening intently.
    Three-quarters of the audience is asleep

    I think in such a case there is the possibility of singular or plural, just because of the nature of "the audience": either a mass of people, or a collection of individuals.

    Perhaps Qualityservant means to suggest that there is something about the word "mail" that makes us see it as a collection of letters or packages, needing a plural verb. I don't see it that way myself, and I don't think I've seen it used like that.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Well said, Velisarius. This is what I meant by different authorities. Some insist that only the singular form can be used, while others take a more pragmatic view on using the plural when numbers of people are involved, such as an audience or a committee.

    In this case I agree with you and Myridon ... I can't see any reason to visualise mail as individual letters and would keep the singular verb form.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Hi, everybody!

    I have a question about subject-verb agreement.

    In our model test, I came across the following sentence:

    Three quarters of the mail are in English.


    I say that it must be is instead of are, because of the uncountable noun mail.
    It could be are, if we put plural nouns instead of singular one.
    Am I right?

    Thanks in advance
    Elshan

    Yes:

    1. Three quarters of the mail is in English. = :tick: -> subject = mail. Qualifier = three quarters of
    2. [I have divided the mail into four piles. All the piles are equal.] The three quarters of the mail are in English = :tick: -> subject = quarters. Qualifier = of the mail.

    This may be clearer in something that is commonly divided into quarters:

    Three of the quarters of the apple is bad. I see “three quarters” as a single unit of measurement.
    The three quarters of the apple are bad. I see each of the “three quarters" as individual units.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    This may be clearer in something that is commonly divided into quarters:

    Three of the quarters of the apple is bad. I see “three quarters” as a single unit of measurement.
    The three quarters of the apple are bad. I see each of the “three quarters" as individual units.
    If the apple has already been cut into quarters, then your first option (with is) is incorrect unless you omit "of the", because applying the article to quarters makes them, not apple, the subject.

    Three quarters of the apple is bad. :tick:
    Three of the quarters of the apple is bad. :cross:
    Three of the quarters of the apple are bad. :tick:
     
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