Which one is the correct version of "was" here: singular or plural?

Can were be replaced with was in the following sentence?

Several thousand pounds' worth of jewellery were discovered in his pocket.


Both are found. I first thought was is more natural, but I've changed my mind: were is more likely.

On the surface, the logical subject is Several thousand pounds worth, which is uncountable; but in practice, that phrase usually acts as a quantifier, so the effective subject is jewellery, which is uncountable; so either way, the verb should be singular was.

However, in cases like these, there are other considerations.

First, a plural noun somewhere in the phrase (such as several thousand pounds) can influence things, leading to were. (This effect is even stronger if the plural noun is closer to the verb, but that is not the case here).

Finally, even though jewellery is uncountable, we are usually aware that it may consist of a number of separate objects. When there isn't an apparently plural quantifier this has no effect (Some jewellery was found, not were found), but with the several thousand pounds influencing it as well, I think were is more likely.

Edited to change my view of which is more likely.

  • Thanks for your answer. So you mean in the above-mentioned sentence using either "was" or "were" would be equally correct? Or "were" is more likely to be used than "was"? – M.N May 27 '14 at 12:17
  • I mean that people say it with either was or were; and after some thought I believe that were is more common. – Colin Fine May 27 '14 at 23:15
  • Several thousand pounds' worth is both the logical and effective subject. Of jewellery is clearly a qualifier specifying the type of worth; the sentence is meaningful without it. Semantically we know that it's jewellery that was discovered, but the focus of the sentence is on the worth. This sentence tells us how much jewellery was discovered. – Esoteric Screen Name Jun 18 '14 at 8:21
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    @EsotericScreenName: I disagree. Without a context establishing that the subject was jewellery, several thousand pounds' worth was found. is no more meaningful than twenty kilos were found. – Colin Fine Jun 18 '14 at 8:24
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    I didn't say that the context must only come from within the sentence. I said "without a context": I was thinking of that context being established by the previous discourse, but it can certainly be established by social or physical context. – Colin Fine Jun 18 '14 at 8:32

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