Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Synesis (2).

Today: Nouns of Multitude. Among the common nouns of multitude are “bulk,” “bunch,” “flood,” “handful,” “host,” “majority,” “mass,” “minority,” “multitude,” “percentage,” “proportion,” and “variety.” Each of these is frequently followed by “of” [+ plural noun] [+ plural verb]. Though singular in form, these nouns can justifiably take plural verbs — e.g.: o “Republicans in California see Boxer as a vulnerable target, and a host of them are actively considering the race.” Cathleen Decker, “New Welfare Law Should Be Amended, Boxer Says,” L.A. Times, 16 Jan. 1997, at A3. o “Of these 3,000, however, just a small proportion are enrolled in courses such as Foundations of Health or Human Sexuality.” Richard A. Kaye & Theodore Markus, “AIDS Teaching Should Not Be Limited to the Young,” USA Today (Mag.), 1 Sept. 1997, at 50. o “A handful of them are world-class operations.” Linda DuVal, “World-Class Spas Let Visitors Indulge Themselves and Relax,” Gaz. Telegraph (Colo. Springs), 26 Oct. 1997, at T&B4. o “The majority of them were brought over by the autocratic tyrant, led astray, divided, slandered and finally violently suppressed.” “‘The Democratic Banner Cannot Be Obscured,'” Wall Street J., 18 Nov. 1997, at A22. These nouns of multitude are preferably treated as plural when they’re followed by “of” and a plural noun. Perhaps the best-known example is “a lot,” which no one today thinks of as having a singular force {a lot of people were there}. Next: Ambiguities. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Sharp legal minds spend their lives drafting documents in a verbose jargon of their own which shall be knave-proof and fool-proof; but it is seldom that other legal minds as sharp cannot find in those documents, if they try, some fruitful points for litigation.” F.L. Lucas, Style 19 (1955; repr. 1962).
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