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Should I use a singular or plural verb form after a ratio?

*About 1 in 4 adults drink/drinks more alcohol than is recommended for good health. *About 1 in 8 adults have/has an alcohol use disorder.

I have not been able to find a clear answer in any grammar style guides. I have found examples of both singular and plural verbs used on different websites (e.g., CDC, Johns Hopkins, NAMI).

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  • You may find conflicting style guides; is there one that is generally used in your field?
    – Davo
    Sep 24, 2020 at 16:58
  • I think I would use the plural form there. They are clearly not talking about "1" in 1 in 4, but of many, 25% of all adults. Also, the phrase could be "3 in 10 adults drink to excess". I don't think I would adjust the number of the verb for the scaling of the fraction. Sep 24, 2020 at 18:17

2 Answers 2

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The meaning of "1 in 8" is a proportion. It does not refer to one person in a literal group of 8 people, but to one-eighth of the population. It, therefore, refers to a plurality of people and would be treated as plural:

1 in 8 adults drink too much.

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"One" is the subject of the sentence; therefore, the verb must be singular. To simplify...

  • "One drinks more alcohol than is recommended for good health."
  • "One adult drinks more alcohol than is recommended for good health."

I found a nice blog post with more examples.

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