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Let me thank you in advance.

I am taking ( for my just blog purpose ) a listening test, which is, the gate examination to enter his/her university for entire students in our country. And I struck upon a very annoying problem? which is, whether speaker should end with either plural or singular. Kindly take a look at below.

( The listening test answer )

Woman : How many emails do you usually get a day?

Man : Around 90

Woman : That many?

Man : Yeah, but a third of them are junk mail.

Now I am wondering if the bold part is correct or not. I think "a third of them" takes singular, so that "are" should not be used as you can see the man ends up with singular. Personally, I think this is a mistake. Am I correct or not?

Thank you for your kind assistance in advance.

  • Ask yourself this: If a third of 90 emails are junk, then he gets 60 bona-fide ones. Since 60 is more than 1, don't you think that a plural verb would seem appropriate? – BillJ Oct 21 '17 at 9:43
  • It could, but it is not necessary since 'mail' is used generically (as a non-count noun). The subject is "a third of them" where "them" is interpreted anaphorically as "90 emails". "The fraction "a third" is the head of the NP "A third of them", but it is the complement of the preposition "of" (i.e. "them") that determines the verb-form. Since "them" is plural, the verb must also be plural. – BillJ Oct 21 '17 at 10:20
  • Look here: link – BillJ Oct 21 '17 at 10:24
  • I agree with BillJ: I occasionally hear people say "mails" or "emails" to refer to "individual pieces of mail" but that is non-standard and sounds ugly. – stangdon Oct 21 '17 at 13:16
  • @stangdon emails is used a heck of a lot and is not ugly to many people. have a look – AmE speaker Oct 21 '17 at 19:06

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