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General Writing and Grammar Help/There "is / are" a great number of people in America who support President Obama.

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Question
Dear Ted,
I'm not sure if I should say "there is a great number" or "there are a great number" in the following sentence, or if both ways are grammatically correct. When I checked on google I noticed that there were a multitude of examples of the expression being used both ways.
There "is / are" a great number of people in America who support President Obama.
My second question is if I should say "there is great numbers" or "there are great numbers" in the following sentence, or if both ways are grammatically correct.
There "is / are" great numbers of people in America who support President Obama.

Answer
Dear Glen:

I'm not sure if I should say "there is a great number" or "there are a great number" in the following sentence, or if both ways are grammatically correct. When I checked on google I noticed that there were a multitude of examples of the expression being used both ways.

*** I have always been troubled by this dilemma.  Expert grammarians take opposing views concerning it.

The word "number" is singular, but, in many cases, it has a plural meaning.

My personal preference is to treat it as a plural word, especially if it has modifies that suggest plurality.  

There ARE a great number of people in America who support President Obama.

I can rearrange the sentence:  A great number of people in America support President Obama.

Because I consider "number" to indicate many people [especially because of the adjective "great"], I use the verb "support," as if I were saying "THEY SUPPORT."

*** The British have a different view.  They believe that "collective nouns" are always plural in their meaning.  Thus, they write "the committee are" and "the Parliament are."


There "is / are" a great number of people in America who support President Obama.
My second question is if I should say "there is great numbers" or "there are great numbers" in the following sentence, or if both ways are grammatically correct.

There "is / are" great numbers of people in America who support President Obama

*** Since you use the plural "numbers," you MUST say "There ARE great numbers . . . . "

Glen, although you didn't ask for this extra advice, I want to suggest that you avoid writing sentence that begin with "There are,"  "This is," and similar expression.  The words "there" and "this" in these constructions are NOT the subjects of the sentences.  They are called "expletives" and they have NO GRAMMATICAL relationship to anything else in the sentence.
If you omit them, your sentences will be better and stronger:

Great numbers of people in America support President Obama.

A great number of people in America support President Obama.

*** I can explain this point in greater detail, if you don't understand what I'm saying.

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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