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1, The number of the young people in Place A who can't read is incredible about one in four.

I think there is a mistake in the bolded part, because incredible is an adjective, which should be changed into anadverb in order to modify a number.

2,The number of the young people in Place A who can't read is incredibly about one in four.

or

3,The number of the young people in Place A who can't read is an incredible about one in four.

Which of the sentences do you think is correct?

  • I'm not a native speaker. In my opinion, I read the sentence 1 as: "[The number of the young people in Place A who can't read is incredible] [about one in four]. "about one in four" is probably a complement. A comma might help: "The number of the young people in Place A who can't read is incredible, about one in four." – dan Dec 14 '19 at 12:36
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You are correct in a very technical sense: numbers are not modifiable because they are absolute concepts. It makes no sense to say

Three is purple

because "three" is a mental concept rather than a physical thing that can have color. (Note, however, the distinction between "number" and "numeral.")

However, this is too technical. We can compare numbers and express opinions about numerical facts.

A literacy ratio of one fourth is not acceptable

What your sentence means is that the social fact that such a low ratio of young adults can read is "incredible" in the colloquial sense that it is highly unexpected and therefore difficult to believe.

Would I be surprised if someone in casual conversation used the sentence you first mentioned? Not at all, and it would be understood by native speakers without difficulty. Would it be acceptable to the New York Times in an op-ed piece? Probably not: a good editor would reword and reorganize the sentence. For example,

The approximate ratio of young adults who can read in place A is a disturbingly low one fourth.

Notice that the adverb "disturbingly" conveys a more specific attitude than does "incredibly" and that the adjective "low," which is definitely applied to a number, is intended in a comparative sense to distinguish the actual ratio from an acceptable ratio.

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  • I noticed that you used a article "a" : " read in place A is a disturbingly low one fourth." Is that obligatory? I mean even if in casual conversation, do people usually add it? – Robby zhu Dec 14 '19 at 14:00
  • Yes. A ratio of one fourth is not the only possible ratio, nor is it the only possible disturbing ratio, not even for that place because such ratios change over time. We are talking about one member of a set, not the only possible member of a set. – Jeff Morrow Dec 14 '19 at 15:12

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