Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Synesis (3).

Today: Ambiguities. Occasionally an ambiguity arises with synesis — e.g.: “There is now a variety of antidepressant drugs that can help lift these people out of their black moods.” If the sense of “a variety of” is “several,” then “are” is the appropriate verb; if the sense of the phrase is “a type of,” then “is” is the appropriate verb. Either way, though, a writer would be wise to reword a sentence like that one. But the nouns “amount,” “class,” and “group” all typically call for singular verbs — e.g.: o “This class of organizations was far more prevalent in the developing countries.” Lester M. Salamon & Helmut K. Anheier, “The Civil Society Sector,” Society, 11 Jan. 1997, at 60. o “A small group of conservative congressmen are [read ‘is’] thinking about drafting a bill requiring U.S. companies to translate the names of their businesses locating here into Spanish.” Paul de la Garza, “Hooters in Mexico May Prove Challenge,” San Antonio Express-News, 25 Nov. 1997, at C1. There may be little or no logical consistency in the two sets of examples just given — justifiable plurals and less justifiable ones — but the problem lies just outside the realm of logic, in the genius of the language. It is no use trying to explain why we say, on the one hand, “that pair of shoes is getting old,” but on the other hand, “the pair were perfectly happy after their honeymoon.” For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Language, though perhaps the most remarkable creation of the human race, is so close to us, so intimate a thing, that we rarely stop to consider its true nature.” John Mantle Clapp & Homer Heath Nugent, How to Write 16 (1930).
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