I can not explain why "an" is used in the phrase "with an estimated 311,000 deaths". The word “deaths” is plural... but why add "an" in the sentence?

The full sentence is below:

With an estimated 570,000 cases and 311,000 deaths in 2018 worldwide, this disease ranks as the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in women.

Can anyone explain the grammar?


Normally, nouns need a determiner such as an article.

Numbers, however, can act either as nouns or determiners.

We can say

Three is two more than one.


Three is a positive real number.

In those cases, "three" is being used as a noun.

We can also say

There were three thousand people in the room

In this case, we are using "three thousand" as a determiner to specify the number of people being discussed.

However, English does not normally have a way to modify determiners.

So if we have an estimated number, it seems unnatural to an English speaker to treat the number as a modified determiner. But it also seems unnatural to not have a determiner at all. And determiners precede adjectives: we do not say

ball the red.

So we essentially add an extra determiner so that the adjective comes where we expect it to, after a determiner.

Three thousand people


An estimated three thousand people.

  • Thanks! I heard info of this. Some people explain that "an" used as just emphasizer for big number. is it correct? Mar 1 '19 at 6:00
  • You would need to show me an example before I could comment on that. It is true that I have never seen the phrase "an estimated two people," but that is not due to any rules of grammar. Rather that is due to the fact that most of us can easily count to two and do not need to estimate it. Mar 1 '19 at 14:42
  • Yes. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/estimated / In this dictionary, it shows the example " The business is worth an estimated $250 million" Mar 2 '19 at 8:38
  • This example does not show "an" being used as an emphasizer. It is exactly like the examples in my answer. Mar 2 '19 at 12:39
  • Oh.. Now I see. I have one silly question.. Is it possible to think that I use "an" because a estimation to estimate that number is one time. Mar 3 '19 at 2:38

Consider these examples:

1000 people showed up.

A record 1000 people showed up.

You are effectively asking why the "A" is needed in the second example?

Say them out loud. You might say either:

One thousand people showed up


A thousand people showed up.

In writing, numerals should be read as the words for which they are substituting; so the determiner was already there in both your examples, you just couldn't see it.

Same with your examples. If you open the sentence with the number you don't need to write "A" or "An" because you already have a determiner. Saying "a person" is effectively the same as saying "one person".

However, if you include an adjective such as "estimated" or "record-breaking" before the number then you need to use the singular determiner appropriate to precede that word. "An estimate" is of course singular.

Also remember that "a number" is singular. A number can be a collection and collective terms are referred to singularly. For example:

A group of 1000 people.

Note that it is a group, but people is plural. This should help explain why in your example "deaths" is plural.

  • 1
    There are several points that bother me about this answer. It is not true that "in writing, numerals substitute for words." It is, for example, perfectly possible to write "three" instead of "3." In writing, the name of a number can be represented by spelling the name or using a numeral.. More importantly, the answer does not clearly explain the fundamental question of why we write and say "the earthquake resulted in 200,000 deaths" but also write "the earthquake resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths." Feb 26 '19 at 15:03
  • @JeffMorrow Thanks for the comments Jeff. I disagree. Numerals can substitute for words. Yes, you can write them out. In fact there are "rules" concerning that which are observed in journalism. But when they are written as numbers they are "substituting" for the words and as such should be read the same way. Writing "A 1000" would be like writing "A one thousand" or "A a thousand". And in your example "Two thousand" is the determiner. Imagine if it was only one death - you would write "one death" or "a death", not "a one death".
    – Astralbee
    Feb 26 '19 at 15:22
  • We may perhaps be merely disagreeing about a definition of "word." If you read "There were 3 dogs? aloud, what do you use instead of a word when you enunciate "3." To my mind, numerals are alternate symbols (rather than strings of letters) for denoting a word. But you are missing my fundamental point, which I suspect was the fundamental point of the question. I agree that "A 1000" is bad English. So why is "An estimated 1000" good English? Feb 26 '19 at 15:32
  • @JeffMorrow Because you need to precede the noun with a determiner. The "estimated 1000" is a collective noun, but 1000 alone is specific number and so is itself a determiner for items it counts.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 26 '19 at 15:36
  • @JeffMorrow Agree on numerals being symbols. How do you read "$5000" - obviously it is "five thousand dollars", not "dollars five thousand". It just happens that the currency symbol goes before the number. If you substitute words for numerals or symbols you need to know what they represent and read them that way.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 26 '19 at 15:41

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