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I teach online and was faced with this question today and it really bothered me but I want to see what everyone's opinion was.

Which one is correct:

  1. The price of the school supplies is going up this year
  2. The price of the school supplies are going up this year
  3. The price of pens is going up

I had a B1 learner insist that the correct option is #1 and #3. what do we think as educators?

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    Your student is right. What is the subject of the sentence? – Cascabel Oct 18 at 15:09
  • Unless you amend "price" to "prices" in #2, it has to be #1 or #3. – rjpond Oct 18 at 15:32
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    The price is what's going up and the price is singular in all the presented sentences. Individual supplies have different prices and probably increase at different rates so "The prices of school supplies are going up every year" would be a possible way to say it but that is not what is presented in the question. – BoldBen Oct 18 at 15:34
  • The fixed phrase is school supplies, no article. So both (1) and (2) are wrong for that, and (2) also for pluralizing the verb with price as subject, leaving only (3) as correct. – John Lawler Oct 18 at 21:05
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The subject is uncontroversially the price, so it requires a singular verb.

You may be confusing it with phrases such as the number of, which can take a singular verb when it is the number that is relevant:

The number of pens is going up this year

but functions as a numerical modifier to a plural noun phrase when that is the logical subject:

A number of pens were found to be faulty.

But I can't see how this duality can arise with the price of.

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