I have a pie chart showing:

  • Boy: 80%

  • Girl: 20%

How to say the fraction of girls, "one in five is girl" or "one in five are girls"?

2 Answers 2


I would use the past tense if the statistic is being reported as the conclusion of the survey:

One in five of the people in the survey was a girl.

One in five of the people surveyed were female.

Twenty percent of the people surveyed were girls.

When merely reading from a graph, I would use the present tense:

Four out of five of the people on this pie chart are boys.

Four out of every five people on this pie chart are male.

  • 2
    What is the difference between expression #1 and #2? Both of the expression are essentially the same(except girl/female) and you have used both were and was, Does that mean that either of was/were can be used in this context.
    – Max
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 19:42
  • 1
    @JoeDimaggio: As shown by #1 and #2 you can either choose to emphasize the statistic (by choosing the fraction "one in five" as the subject of the sentence, and hence "were" - since fractions are plural), or you can emphasize the individual items described by taking the subject to be "one" of the "one in five", and hence use the singular. Note that this ambiguity exists only when the fraction is "one in N". You also need count agreement at the end of your sentence, so you can say "was a girl" / "were female" / "was a female" / "were girls", but not "was girls" or "were a girl" in StdEnglish.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 21:16

One-fifth would be how I'd state the 1 divided by 5 that is the fraction.

Alternatively, you could state the ratio is "One girl to every four boys" to convey that information.

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