This morning before my second cup of caffeine, I stumbled over a subject-verb agreement issue in instructions I was writing. Here is the sentence:
If there is an odd number of participants, pair up with one of them.
If there is an odd number? If there are an odd number?
Although my brain felt fuzzy, I could go back to the rule I know well:
A number are. (“A number” takes a plural verb.)
The number is. (“The number” takes a singular verb.)
A number of people are waiting in the conference room.
The number of people waiting is more than I realized.
A number of employees have taken the writing class.
The number of employees has increased this month.
Since “a number” are, “an odd number” are. For my subject and verb to agree, my example must be written this way:
If there are an odd number of participants, pair up with one of them.
MG wrote last week to ask me about subject-verb agreement with “a myriad.” Just like “a number,” “a myriad” takes a plural verb because it means “a vast number.”
A myriad of people are contributing to the campaign.
A multitude of reasons are being given for the downturn.
A host of factors are affecting sales.
A number, a host, a multitude–all take a plural verb in examples like the ones above. (Of course, you can come up with exceptions such as “A number is hard to read,” meaning “one number,” or “A host is someone who entertains guests.” Because of these exceptions, you cannot rely on Microsoft Office to choose your verb for you.)
Please note: A large number of questions are arriving in my email inbox daily. I am not able to respond to them and earn a living. I apologize for my inability to respond to everyone’s inquiries.