5

And here comes another of my question from chat discussions :P

We were discussing some tv series, and I recommended a particular series which ended with just two seasons in 2011. Now, his next question was:

How many episodes was it?

The usage of was struck me as both odd and correct.

In my opinion the correct usage must have been:

How many episodes is it?

As the series has ended, the number will be a constant value and you can not change this. While, using was means(this is what I think) that the number still has a probability/tendency to change.

So, my question is which of the two is more correct? They are both correct, of which I am sure.

The best method of asking should've instead been:

How many episodes does it have?

  • 4
    Or "How many episodes did it have?" You haven't avoided the problem. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '13 at 16:19
8

While I'm sure the question would be understood either way, I think the problem arises because the question is not really a complete thought. How many is/were what? "Is" or "was" here is acting as a helping verb, and there is no primary verb.

If you asked, "How many episodes were made?" it should clearly be in the past tense, because the making of the episodes is complete. If the program was till in production, you could ask "How many episodes are being made?" or "How many episodes will be made?"

If you asked, "How many episodes are in existence?" or "How many episodes are available for viewing?" or some variation on that thought, then it should be present tense, because the episodes exist in the present.

That's not to say that the question as worded is "wrong". The context of the conversation might well have supplied the primary verb. "They made these episodes in 2007 and 2008." "How many episodes was that?" We'd understand the question to mean "How many were made?", so it should be past tense. But, "I have all the episodes of this program on DVD." "How many episodes is that?" Now the question means "How many episodes do you have on DVD?", which is present tense.

1

I think I would say/write

How many episodes were there?

I agree with Jay that

How many episodes were made?

is also OK, but using the singular form

How many episodes was that? / How many episodes was it?

is not.

0

The Earth revolves around the Sun. - general truth. How many episodes is Friends ? - they keep being the same number, aka fact. Therefore present simple tense. I would say this is more correct, but generally it depends on the type,manner and ect. of the conversation.

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