Grammar question

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Bardolph, Feb 20, 2004.

  1. Bardolph


    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Would you say "There is a number of ways" or "There are a number of ways?" The second seems to sound better, but the word "number" is the subject, not "ways," and "number" is singular.
  2. MJ5150

    MJ5150 Terrific Twister

    Apr 12, 2001
    Lacey, WA
    Use are. The subject in that sentence is ways.

  3. Yep. Imagine changing the modifier "a number of" to an actual number (other than one): "There are 74 ways to shave a weasel." You certainly wouldn't say "There is 74 ways to shave a weasel." (or if you would, I would certainly mock your grammar ;) ) Same rule applies with a different numerical plural modifier.
  4. Thor

    Thor Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member


    Simplify this by thinking:

    There are ways.

    There are (many) ways.

    There are (a number of) ways.

    There are (numerous) ways.


    Ask any time, I am happy to help people who want to check
    or improve their writing skills...

    Bleeecccchbird be praised ....
  5. Electricmayhem


    Dec 18, 2003
    Wait a second!

    If you say "a number of ways" doesn't "ways" become the object of the preposition "of"? :confused:
  6. Bardolph


    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    See Electric, that's just what I was thinking. If you say a number of ways, "number" is the subject and "ways" is the object of the preposition. I'm just thinking that the word number could be treated as singular or plural.
  7. Toasted


    May 26, 2003
    Leeds, UK
    it the end of the day it doesnt really matter, your language is still acting as a communication tool wether you use is or are. only the most psycopathical english tutor is goingt o mark you down if you 'get it wrong.' personally i'd say are because i think it fits phonemically better in the sentence.

    //english major
  8. Bardolph


    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Well see, I did have the most psychopathical English teacher last year. You could have the other English teachers proofread papers for you and find nothing wrong and then you'd get it back from him with 60 errors marked on it. Perhaps this is why I've turned into a little grammar nazi.
  9. jobu3

    jobu3 Artist formerly known as Big Joe Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2002
    Mountain Top, PA
    The fact that you are using "number" in "a number of ways" reinforces the fact that "ways" is plural (besides of course the plural marker "-s"). "A" in this sense, signifies singularity to "number" not to "ways." (As opposed to plural "the numbers of ways" where you would use "the" instead of "A.") If not, it would simply be "a way" instead of "a number of ways" and although "1" is "a number" it is not the number in question which must be "two or more" as used in this sentence. Makes sense right? :smug: :help:

  10. but if the number would only be one, it would be "is".. at least i think.

    there is one way to shave a weasel silentstranger.
  11. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    There are myriad ways of solving the sentence.
  12. Petebass


    Dec 22, 2002
    QLD Australia
    1/ There ARE a number of ways to solve this problem.

    2 / There IS a number is things you can do to solve this problem.

    It depends on context doesn't it?
  13. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    The word "number" is not always singular. Which it is, singular or plural, depends on its use and intent in the sentence in which it appears.

    In your sentence "ways" is the object of the preposition "of."

    If you were writing a composition for your grammar Nazi instructor, and came across the construction in your sentence which raises the question of using "is" or "are", you can avoid the problem by changing your wording to less awkward phrasing.

    Try--"There are many ways..." Or..."There are numerous ways..." Or..."There are several ways..."

    Another choice would be to avoid the passive construction "There is " or "There are" and state more definitely, "Numerous ways exist." Or, "Many ways exist."

    Back to your original sentence. The word "number" used as a noun can be singular or plural as stated above. Here are two examples:

    "The 'number' of tab readers is increasing."

    "A 'number' of bass players are admirers of Jaco."

    In the second sentence, "number" means several or even many. That is the same meaning I take from your sample sentence. The "number" in your sentence is understood to be plural. By the way, the subject of your sentence is "number", not "ways" which is, as I stated before, the object of the preposition "of".
  14. Yep, you got the exception... I forgot to specify I was only referring to numbers other than one. Nobody seems to have trouble when no plurals are involved; so I guess I didn't feel it was necessary to mention. I've edited my post...

    It does depend on context, but I believe both of your examples should use "are"... I typed a long post trying to explain this further, but I only succeeded in confusing the hell out of myself, so I'll leave it at that. :confused: Grammar has always come naturally to me; I really don't know too much about the formalities and naming and all that, so I'll leave it to the people who know how to correctly explain (like in Bop's post above)...
  15. Bardolph


    Jul 28, 2002
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Boplicity, I believe you just cleared it up. It makes sense that in context "number" can be the same as "several" or "many" and, therefore, be used as a plural word. By the way, we did both agree that "number" was the subject of the sentence. :confused: