17

If I found two $5 bills on the ground, would it be acceptable to say "$10 are on the ground"?

Is "Two $5 bills are on the ground" the ONLY acceptable sentence?

6
  • 22
    Regardless of whether you use a singular or plural verb, it's not particularly idiomatic to say Ten dollars is/are on the ground. We usually say There is / There's ten dollars on the ground. And in that construction it's perfectly normal to use the singular verb form with a plural subject, if that subject is being treated "collectively". Hence Do you want a drink? There's two beers in the fridge is a natural usage for many / most Anglophones. – FumbleFingers Oct 26 '20 at 17:49
  • 6
    Keep in mind that acceptable really shouldn't be your goal. English is a highly permissive language. There are many ways to create "correct" sentences that will sound confusing or awkward. If a native speaker found two $5 bills on the ground they might just say "Oh, look - ten bucks!". We don't usually make pains to point out the obvious "There are two five dollar bills on the ground" is perhaps something you would say if you were with a blind friend and were trying to describe the environment - or perhaps if you were filing a detailed report for the police. Not in normal conversation. – J... Oct 27 '20 at 8:34
  • 2
    To be clear I voted to close because the main thrust was if we could define two $5 dollars as being $10. Answer: Yes, you can. // Asking whether the amount of money takes the singular or plural verb was never mentioned, maybe it was implied by bolding the verb are but if the poster doesn't mention Singular vs Plural, and doesn't comment to clarify then I'm going to interpret the question as it is currently presented. – Mari-Lou A Oct 27 '20 at 9:11
  • 1
    I think, in general you'd say, "Ten dollars were on the ground." because most people's first response would be to pick it up before talking about it. ;) – FreeMan Oct 27 '20 at 11:31
  • 2
    Gotta say, I randomly clicked on this in "Network Questions", while doing programming work. As someone who's learning Japanese, requiring a possibly non-English native speaker to be able to precisely articulate "singular vs plural regarding countable objects vs quantities" seems a bit unrealistic. Surely the comments could direct the poster to refine exactly what the question is instead of, "voting to close until you can articulate your English language question better". I think the intent is there & that rjpond's response seems most appropriate given the highlighting of "are". – Lovethenakedgun Oct 27 '20 at 16:20
27

No, most people would consider it incorrect to say "$10 are on the ground".

Sums of money are singular. We would say "$10 is on the ground".

If the dollars took the form of ten individual coins or ten one-dollar bills, it might be considered correct to say "are", but when you're referring to a sum of money, it's "is".

It's similar with weights and distances. We say "five hundred miles is a long way to travel". We don't say "are".

'3 minutes is perfect for tea.' '£100 is a fortune!' '24 hours is all I need' '26 miles isn't so far!'

Despite the fact that 3 is a plural number and minutes is a plural noun, the sentence uses a singular verb. This is because, within the context, three minutes is considered to be one unit of time (3 minutes together is enough time to make one cup of tea). This is true for amounts, distances, periods of time, quantities, weights sums of money, etc. ( BBC Learning English )

I thought it important to address the question about "is" versus "are". However, please note that "There's 10 dollars on the ground" would be more idiomatic.

35
  • 16
    “‘There are ten dollars on the floor’ I would take that to mean ten individual dollar bills.” You might, but not necessarily everyone would. It's not a given. – Mari-Lou A Oct 26 '20 at 19:04
  • 9
    But I cited sources. The BBC Learning English site and many other sites insist on singular verbs for sums of money. And I also said "most people". So, some people might consider it OK to say "There are ten dollars", but it seems right to point out that it isn't generally considered good usage. – rjpond Oct 26 '20 at 19:05
  • 8
    "Ten dollars are in my pocket" is perfectly legitimate. – Mari-Lou A Oct 26 '20 at 19:10
  • 11
    @rjpond Really? Have you ever said that? I doubt it. Maybe "I've got four quid", or "I've got three pound fifty in my pocket". But "Three pounds fifty is in my pocket"? What a bizarre announcement to make, wouldn't you say? – J... Oct 27 '20 at 8:25
  • 12
    @rjpond This is ELL - it's not about grammatical, it's about english learners trying to discover the ways people actually use English more than what's technically correct English. It's very possible to speak in "correct" English that is bizarre and awkward and the whole point of this place is to help people not sound like that. – J... Oct 27 '20 at 8:28
11

It would be perfectly valid to say, "I found $10 lying on the ground." Imagine a more extreme case. Suppose you found a whole pile of cash. No one would insist that you say, "I found 17 twenty dollar bills, 12 ten dollar bills, 4 five dollar bills, 24 one dollar bills, 82 quarters, 16 dimes, 10 nickels and 20 pennies lying on the ground." You'd just give the total, whatever that comes to in this case. (Sadly, how to express the idea that I have found large amounts of money lying in the ground is not a problem that I struggle with often in real life.)

You might, of course, be more specific and say, "I found 2 five dollar bills."

In general, how specific or how "summarized" you are depends on how much information is relevant or interesting. There are times when a brief statement like "I was out with some friends last night" is more information then the other person is interested in hearing. Other times you might want to name these friends and say exactly where you went and what you did.

1
  • 2
    It's best to simply answer the given question, here on ELL. The OP is asking nothing more than "are or is". – Fattie Oct 27 '20 at 13:50
3

You are talking about 2 different things.
In the sentence:

Two $5 bills are on the ground

You are referring to the bills that are on the ground. We use are because bills are countable.

In the sentence:

There is 10 dollar laying on the ground

You are referring to dollar which is not physically countable. 10 dollar can take lots of shapes: two five dollar bills, ten one dollar bills, or I can have 10 dollars on my bank account.

When things are not countable such as water, we use the singular version.

There is water on the ground

Bottles are countable so:

Two bottles of water are on the ground

2
  • 3
    "10 dollar" is wrong, though? It's "10 dollars." Is this a regional variation, perhaps? – user253751 Oct 28 '20 at 10:59
  • @user253751 Regional variation, yes. It feels wrong to me, but I've heard people using it a lot (online, and on television; not in person). – wizzwizz4 Oct 28 '20 at 13:15
2

What is acceptable to say depends on what meaning you want to convey. If what you want to convey is monetary value, then

Two five-dollar bills

and

Ten dollars

are equally acceptable.

If what you want to convey is the number of items of legal tender, then only

Two five-dollar bills

is acceptable because

Ten dollars

might mean anything from a thousand pennies to a single ten-dollar bill.

What you intend to convey determines whether two grammatical sentences are equivalent. Meaning comes first.

4
  • 3
    The OP is at least partially asking about is vs. are, in the case of 10 dollars. – Panzercrisis Oct 27 '20 at 1:50
  • @Panzercrisis You may of course be correct. The question itself, however, merely asks whether “Ten dollars are on the ground” is a grammatical sentence in English, whether it is “acceptable.” I have tried to answer that question rather than guess at what contexts make it acceptable. In some it is, and in some it is not. I think way too often people try to solve problems of meaning by looking for grammatical absolutes. Figure out what you mean to say, and many subtle questions of grammar disappear. But you are quite right; I may not have guessed what the OP really meant to ask. – Jeff Morrow Oct 27 '20 at 2:17
  • 1
    It's best to simply answer the given question, here on ELL. The OP is asking nothing more than "are or is". – Fattie Oct 27 '20 at 13:50
  • 2
    @Fattie And just where in the question is that asked at all in the OP? I answered the question actually asked, not what you think might have been intended. – Jeff Morrow Oct 27 '20 at 17:01
2

I would absolutely accept "Ten dollars are on the ground." I don't know if I'm in the majority or minority. "Ten dollars is on the ground" sounds a bit odd, but I might not notice if I'm not thinking about it.

I would be happy with any of these constructions:

  • Ten dollars are on the ground
  • There are ten dollars on the ground. (The "there" construction is more natural.)
  • There's ten dollars on the ground. (In casual English, "there is" is always an option whether the noun phrase is singular or plural.)
  • There are 100 cents in a dollar.
  • There are 1000 meters in a kilometer.
  • Ten dollars is too much to pay for a pencil.
  • 1000 meters is too far to walk on crutches.
  • Ten cats is too many.
  • Ten cats are on the ground. (I admit this sounds smoother than "Ten dollars are on the ground.")
5
  • I agree with all of these. – user253751 Oct 28 '20 at 11:00
  • ... and "Ten cats are on the ground." – user253751 Oct 28 '20 at 11:01
  • 1
    Thanks. I added that one too. This morning I started thinking about "There is/are ten meters of rope on the ground" and I think I reached the point of overthinking where I can't make any trustworthy conclusions anymore. – Jetpack Oct 28 '20 at 15:50
  • "Ten cats are..." works better than "Ten dollars are..." because cats are singular objects. There's no such thing as an object that is equivalent to more than one cat, so if you say "ten cats", it's unambiguously ten individual cats. – Darrel Hoffman Oct 28 '20 at 17:56
  • @DarrelHoffman So if the cats included a pair of conjoined twin cats, you wouldn't say "ten cats are on the ground"? Does "two thousand people are at this school" have to be amended to "two thousand people is at this school" if it includes a pair of conjoined twins? – user253751 Oct 29 '20 at 12:55
1

"$10 are on the ground"

You are really referring to a singular thing, an amount of money on the ground, the measurement of an uncountable amount. If you were talking about individual dollar bills that would be acceptable, but should be written as 'Ten dollars are on the ground'. You are really omitting the item you are indicating, money, as a shorthand and specifying the amount. The statement could be 'There is $10 in money on the ground.' In this instance, dollars is the unit of measurement for the money that is on the ground, no an individual countable item in itself.

Think about other statements involving measurements:

  • The price of milk is $4.
  • The distance to Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years.
  • The amount of money on the ground is $10.
  • The height of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet.

When talking about multiple individual items, 'are' would be used. The 'is' is a short-hand for letting you know you are talking about the amount of money and not individual items. If you did say "There are ten dollars on the ground", I would immediately think there are ten countable things, individual dollars or dollar bills, on the ground. If you wanted to describe the amount and the individual makeup you may say "There is ten dollars in the form of two five-dollar bills on the ground."

6
  • "The amount of money on the ground is ten dollars." -> "Ten dollars is the amount of money on the ground". But the sentence doesn't say "amount of money" – user253751 Oct 29 '20 at 12:56
  • The sentence doesn't say 'amount of money', but the question is about an amount of money totaling $10 and not ten individual dollar bills. The $ symbol is an indicator that an amount of money is being talked about and not individual countable dollar bills. If you are talking about an amount of money, the same word should be used if you specify 'amount of money'. – Jason Goemaat Oct 29 '20 at 14:03
  • The amount of water on the ground is ten litres, but ten litres of water are on the ground. – user253751 Oct 29 '20 at 15:15
  • Not unless there are 10 countable litres of water. – Jason Goemaat Oct 29 '20 at 16:29
  • ... litres are countable. That's why we can say there are ten. An example of an uncountable noun: "water is on the ground." You don't say "ten water is on the ground." – user253751 Oct 29 '20 at 16:42
0

In part, it depends on what you're talking about.

If you are talking about the sum, then:

  1. "There is $10 on the ground."
  2. "I found $10 on the ground."

If you are talking about the individual pieces of paper or coins, then:

  1. "There are two $5 bills on the ground."
  2. "There is a $10 bill on the ground."
  3. "There are 10 dollar-coins on the ground."
  4. "There are 10 dollar-bills on the ground." (referring to 10 1-dollar bills, or else an unspecified number of 10-dollar bills -- it would probably need to be understood in context.)

It is common to hear the use of 'are', without also referencing 'coins' or 'bills' in the same sentence, from inexperienced speakers. Technically, I think it is correct, but colloquially, it identifies the speaker as someone who is still learning.

In my context / colloquially -- U.S. English, Pacific Northwest region -- it is also possible to say:

  1. "There's a 5 on the ground."
  2. "There's a couple of 5's on the ground"
3
  • I think the "child" bit obscures an important point you're making -- it's not ungrammatical to say "there are 10 dollars on the ground" if you're describing a number of dollar objects, even if you don't specify whether they're in bill form or coin form. The problem with saying it that way, however, is that most native speakers will misunderstand what you're saying and will instead assume that you made the very common grammatical is/are error at the heart of OP's question. More experienced speakers (not children, I guess) will recognize that adding bill/coin removes some of that ambiguity. – A C Oct 27 '20 at 21:11
  • I think it's relatively common to refer to a one dollar coin/bill as "a dollar" in US English (I'm just guessing based on movies and TV), but this is a colloquialism that's not popular in all dialects (e.g. NZ/Australia). In NZ, "I found 10 dollars" would unambiguously mean "I found coins/notes totalling $10 in value", not "I found 10 one-dollar coins", so "There are 10 dollars on the ground" would be ungrammatical. – Karu Oct 28 '20 at 4:10
  • Thanks @AC. Not meaning to disparage anyone through the use of 'child' -- I hope OP doesn't read it that way -- I appreciate you pointing that out. Yes, I agree with your comment. – Kuru Oct 28 '20 at 16:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.