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I originally wrote:

The number of shops that opened and the number that closed both saw wide fluctuations during the entire period.

I used "the number" twice because I used "both". I think it's important to make it clear that there are two numbers.

However, a native speaker changed my sentence to:

Both the number of shops that opened and those that closed saw large fluctuations during the specified period of time.

Is it correct to use the singular "number" with "both"? Should the native speaker use "numbers" instead?

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1 Answer 1

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Your sentence is fine. It is very precise, and the style of writing that comes with graphs usually requires such precision.

The revised sentence is bad. I'm concerned with this part:

Both the number of shops that opened and those that closed . . .

The word both is being used to introduce a set of parallel elements. But they are not parallel. The first is number of shops. The second is those. For the structure to be parallel, the word that fills the slot occupied by those must be filled with something equivalent to number, not something equivalent to shops. The use of those also fails because it does not match saw large fluctuations. The shops did not see fluctuations. The number did.

You could write the sentence this way:

Both the number of shops that opened and the number that closed saw wide fluctuations during the entire period.

But your original is better because the word both unambiguously signals the boundary between the grammatical subject and its verb.

You could also write your sentence like this:

The number of shops that opened and the number that closed each saw wide fluctuations during the entire period.

This might be better if you want your reader to think about the numbers separately. I like it a little less, however. Although number is technically singular, it has a plural feeling. To me, both sounds more natural.

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