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Is this sentence correct? "A lot of sugar have been added to the milk." Please explain it.

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    Was it... White sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, and fruit sugar? Even so, would need an s – Menasheh Feb 15 '17 at 3:22
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    @Menasheh Totally irrelevant. The word sugar" is being used as a non-count noun in this example. It's referring to the product as a whole, not individual kinds of sugar. – BillJ Feb 15 '17 at 7:54
  • @BillJ that's an opinion. We don't have much context. – Menasheh Feb 15 '17 at 8:25
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    @Menasheh It's not opinion, it's fact. As written, "sugar" is clearly being used in a non-count way. We cannot second-guess the author of the sentence and assume that they might have made a mistake and meant to write plural "sugars". It is written as singular "sugar" and we have to assume that's what they meant. Simple really! – BillJ Feb 15 '17 at 8:44
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    @BillJ: You can assume the author has made a mistake, because the sentence given is ungrammatical. The point Menasheh is getting at is that "A lot of sugars (of various types) have been added to the milk" would be grammatical. However, that'd be a strange situation, so you're right that "a lot of sugar has been..." is likely what they intended. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Feb 16 '17 at 7:02
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A lot of sugar have/has been added to the milk.

No, the verb should be the singular "has".

The quantificational noun "lot" is number-transparent, which means that the whole noun phrase takes on the number of the noun that is complement of the preposition "of", which in this case is the non-count "sugar".

Since non-count nouns like "sugar" take singular verb agreement it follows that the verb must be the singular "has".

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    Non-count nouns are also known as uncountable or mass nouns. – Greg Bacon Feb 14 '17 at 19:59
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    Say the recipe called for confectioners sugar, brown sugar, granulated sugar, invert sugar and 10 other types of sugar. The sentence could be correct as "A lot of sugars have been added to the milk". I consider your answer correct, but wanted to point out that there is a case where "have" would be correct and "sugar" would need to be changed to "sugars". – Keeta Feb 14 '17 at 20:06
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    Here in the UK, we sometimes use the plural in a count noun sense to refer to spoonfuls, e.g. "How many sugars would you like in your tea?" – Bobby Jack Feb 15 '17 at 1:47
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    @BobbyJack - note that in that usage it's sugars, though. I'd also judge it an informal usage, perhaps because to my Canadian understanding, a double-double is two milk and two sugar (rather than two milks and two sugars), with "servings of" implied. – Mathieu K. Feb 15 '17 at 2:10
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    In this part of the US people definitely say "two sugars", but in the original context nobody would ever say "a lot of sugars" unless it was a very specific context - someone at a fast food restaurant, say, grabbing a handful of 20 sugar packets. – Darren Ringer Feb 15 '17 at 2:10
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No, sugar is an uncountable noun, and A lot does not quantify it, so it takes has: A lot of sugar has been added to the milk.

However, if you quantify it, you may say: Two cups of sugar have been added to the milk.

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    Lots are countable. In this case, a single lot was specified. – user36618 Feb 14 '17 at 20:41
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    @Physics-Compute In this context, "a lot" is the idiom meaning "a large but nonspecific quantity", not the auctioneering jargon meaning "a discrete item or set of items that will be auctioned as a unit". – zwol Feb 14 '17 at 20:58
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    @Pysics-Compute The "lot" in the example is not countable - it's a quantificational non-count noun. It is head of the NP, but it's the noun that is complement of the preposition "of" that determines the number of the whole NP, in this case "sugar" which is being used in a non-count way. You are confusing this "lot" with the "lot" found in examples like "We have two lots of people coming today", where "lot" is a count noun. – BillJ Feb 15 '17 at 8:19
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    @Kenneth K No! It's totally relevant, indeed key to understanding the grammar. The "lot" under consideration is number-transparent, meaning that for verb agreement purposes the whole NP takes on the number of the noun that is complement to the prep "of", which in this case is the non-count "sugar". If the complement noun were plural like, say, "flavourings", then the whole NP would become plural: "A lot of flavourings were added to the milk". Do you see the difference? – BillJ Feb 15 '17 at 9:01
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    @Kenneth K I've explained as clearly as I can that the "lot" under discussion here is a non-count quantificational noun. Please read my answer for a very simple explanation of how it works. – BillJ Feb 15 '17 at 16:50
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Although I think that BillJ's answer is probably a correct way to look at this issue, it seems a little technical. It's possible to look at this sentence another way and understand it with fairly basic, high-school level grammar.

The subject of this sentence is "a lot", which is singular. Therefore, the verb should be "has".

A lot has been added to my milk.

"Of sugar" is an adjectival prepositional phrase, modifying "a lot". It's telling you what kind of lot has been added.

Using 'lot' in this sense is somewhat idiomatic, in that a 'lot' is

an article or set of articles for sale at an auction. (MW)

Although it's become so common to use it in this fashion that the idiomatic usage is probably more common than the original one. It has this definition:

a considerable quantity or extent (MW)

So,

A considerable quantity has been added to my milk.

What kind of considerable quantity?

A considerable quantity of sugar.

Regardless of how you look at it, you should use "has". It's an informal usage anyway, so the exact technical details aren't that important.

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    This sounds reasonable to me until I consider examples like "a lot of people" or "a lot of cups", at which point it seems wrong. "Lot" taken as a noun should still be singular, but the whole phrase acts as plural, so something else is going on here, right? – Dan Getz Feb 15 '17 at 3:09
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    @KennethK. do you (or does someone else) have a source for "a lot of" working this way in English, when one is not speaking of actual lots? Because that just doesn't match my experience. – Dan Getz Feb 15 '17 at 3:45
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    For example, "a number" is also singular, but "a number of people"… – Dan Getz Feb 15 '17 at 3:49
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    @Shule The "lot" that we're considering is a number-transparent non-count noun and nothing at all like "box". Singular "lot" takes "a" as determiner, and is used a great many speakers. It's not used as an adjective; it's head of the NP and since it's number transparent, the whole NP takes on the number of the noun that is complement to the preposition "of". Grammatically, "box" is quite different since it is not number-transparent and hence determines the number of the NP: "A box of material/toys has just arrived". (singular verb in both cases) – BillJ Feb 15 '17 at 8:37
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    I don't think the "auction" definition of "lot" is the original one. The M-W link you give suggests the origin is OE "hlot", which basically means "portion". – psmears Feb 15 '17 at 17:33
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You could use "have" with the countable word "sugars" or similarly "sugar crystals". In the context of tea or coffee, you may ask for 3 sugars, where it is implied you are talking about specific units of quantity like cubes or packets.

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