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All those years of hard work have finally paid off.

Shouldn't it be all those years of hard work has finally paid off ? Years of hard work is a single thing, I think.

If the prior version is correct - which probably is - then why is it 'They met again after a gap of twenty years.' OALD

It's from the exercises on this Web site, the 2nd one.

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No. It's referring to the years, not the hard work. "Those" is a plural pronoun and a determiner. It determines which years you are speaking about, but it doesn't group them. Saying "years of hard work" is like saying "bottles of water" - you can count bottles just like you can count years, so they are plural.

The example you are comparing it to is completely different. In "a gap of twenty years", the 'gap' is a singular noun.

  • A gap of twenty years (singular)
  • A year of hard work (singular)
  • Gaps of twenty years (plural)
  • Years of hard work (plural)
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The subject is "years", which is plural. You may think of the "years of hard work" as a single period of time, but grammatically, it's plural "years".

If you said, "A period of 20 years of hard work ..." that would be singular and take a singular verb like "is" or "has", because "period" is singular.

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