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Should I write:

  1. an average of 1,500 lives has been claimed every year

  2. an average of 1,500 lives have been claimed every year

The subject of the sentence is an average (singular), not 1,500 lives, so I would have intuitively used proposition 1. However, my academic advisor, who is American, told me to use proposition 2. Which one is correct?

5

The reason you are being told to use (2) is that it is not an average that is being claimed each year, but rather 1,500 lives that are being claimed each year. To make it clear:

  1. An average has been claimed each year.
  2. 1,500 lives have been claimed each year.

To make it clear - because the lives are claimed, you use the plural form of the verb, not the singular.

Firstly, let me say that the data, on the general form a/an NOUN.sg of * NOUN.pl has/had,1 supports my intuition. However, let me exemplify with some examples.

a-1. The colors of the rainbow are beautiful
a-2. The color of the walls is beautiful
b-1. An average of 1,500 lives are claimed each year
b-2. An average of one life is claimed each year

The primary difference between (a) and (b), is that in (a), of acts as as post-modifier - the subject, or perhaps focus of the sentence is the color, not the rainbow or the walls.

In (b), however, of signals a predeterminer - it quantifies the noun phrase itself, and the focus of (b) is life/lives.

There is some level of intuition involved here, but the main test is asking oneself what the focus of the phrase is - what exactly are you talking about? What is most important to the phrase? Unfortunately, there's no procedure for determining which it is in every situation.


1. NOUN.sg = any singular noun, NOUN.pl = any plural noun, * = any word

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  • 1
    I clicked on your link to the Corpus, and changed the search to specifically include the word "average". The hits support your claim: Since 2000, an average of 272 buildings have renewed each year; convention can be considered an undeniable success. Over the last 15 years, an average of 25 sites have been added to the list each year. In the phase "an average of X...", the "of X" part is not some optional prepositional phrase. Instead, it's a convenient way to say, 1500 lives are claimed each year, on average, which is why the plural verb is used, I think. – J.R. Sep 14 '15 at 14:06
  • It's certainly an interesting test; I was hoping to provide a more general rule of thumb. It wouldn't work with something like a majority of seniors were disappointed, for instance. – jimsug Sep 14 '15 at 14:18
  • So would you say (1) there is a virtually infinite number of buildings, or (2) there are a virtually infinite number of buildings? I would say (2) to be consistent with your answer, but my advisor says (1). – Antoine Sep 23 '15 at 13:59
  • Ah, there does different things. Do a search and ask a new question about it. – jimsug Sep 23 '15 at 20:32
-1

Have is used when you are describing a plural noun. Have is correct when you are referring to more than one thing, and has is used when you are referring to a single thing.

A persons life has been claimed.

1,5000 lives have been claimed.

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  • 2
    While this is true, it is implicit in the question which refers to "an average" as singular. – Chenmunka Sep 14 '15 at 13:28

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