23

I've always said "$100 were taken" not "$100 was taken" because I thought $100 is plural. Could you explain why "was" not "were"? Any other helpful notes about the issue would be appreciated.

Nearly £20 was taken from my bank account

  • 12
    It's because $100 and $20 are both being thought of as a [single] sum of money, not a collection consisting of several individual dollars. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 28 '14 at 14:58
  • 1
    Yes, FumbleFingers got it--what's being taken is money, a non-count item. – Loren Pechtel Sep 29 '14 at 4:38
  • 2
    The was I'd think of the difference is 100 $1 bills were taken from me vs 1 $100 bill was taken from me – TMH Sep 29 '14 at 10:26
  • 2
    Google Ngrams suggests "dollars were" v. "dollars was" is difficult for native speakers, too. However, many of the "dollars was" instances are from sentences like "A premium of ten dollars was awarded...," in which the verb agrees with another word than "dollars." I think the rule-makers are inventing reasons for what has become colloquial. Numbers, more and more, have become singular in construction. "Four people are a good number for dinner"; but "Four is a good number for dinner." We can blame the math teachers: Even "Two and two is four" is quite common. – Michael E2 Sep 29 '14 at 20:10
  • 1
    “Two and two is four” is common because the verb "to be" doubles as the copula in English. Other languages, like Japanese, for example would say 「2と2は4です」with desu being the copula at the end. A good way to think about the copula is it being the equal sign. – Armstrongest Sep 30 '14 at 4:38
30

Because phrases that indicate the amount of sum, time, distance, weight, temperature, etc. are treated as singular:

10 million pounds is a lot of money.

= This sum is a lot of of money.

50 liters of petrol fills my car.

= This quantity fills my car.

Five kilometers is a long way to walk.

= This distance is a long way to walk.

Fifty degrees is a very high temperature.

= This temperature is a very high temperature.

And so on.

  • Thank you. It was confirmed in Practical English Usage, section 527.1, Plural expression with singular verbs. – learner Sep 28 '14 at 15:34
  • 6
    However, if you were indicating the number of $1 coins that were taken from your wallet, you would say that 20 $1 coins were taken. – Scott Sep 28 '14 at 23:17
  • This sum is a lot of of money – Greenonline Jul 21 '15 at 6:09
6

If a box had contained twenty one-dollar bills, then one might say "twenty dollars were taken from the box" [note that the above might possibly written as "20 dollars", but not as "$20"]. If the box had contained a single twenty-dollar bill, however, the verb should clearly be singular. Further, unless the taking consisted entirely of one-dollar bills, the only significance of the number "twenty" would as a description of a single value. The notation "$20" doesn't generally mean twenty individual dollars, but instead is shorthand for "a quantity of money with the same value as twenty individual dollars". Since any verb would bind to "quantity", rather than the dollars which would have the same value, the verb should be singular.

  • "If the box had contained a single twenty-dollar bill, however, the verb should clearly be plural." = you mean clearly be singular, don't you? Nice comment by the way. – learner Sep 28 '14 at 23:06
0

Nearly £20 was taken from my bank account

While 100 dollars is plural so you naturally say were. But twenty quid was taken. Wiki - The word Quid was also used in connection to multiple pounds

You could also say 20 clams were taken or 20 of my finest bills were taken. But it would be a score was taken. Similarly twenty bob, nicker, wedge or wonga would be was. But 20 smackeroos were taken.

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.