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Digital clocks tell the time with a set of numerals which appear/appears in a little window.

Please tell me which verb I should use in this sentence. Thank you so much.

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3 Answers 3

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There is a little ambiguity in this sentence. It is possible for the verb "to appear" to refer to a set or to numerals. The verb that you choose subtly changes the meaning of the sentence.

A. Digital clocks tell the time with a set of numerals which appears in a little window.
B. Digital clocks tell the time with a set of numerals which appear in a little window.

Sentence A means that "a set appears in the window" and then describes that set as being composed of numerals.

Sentence B means that "numerals appear in the window" and then describes those numerals as being part of a set.

In this case I think that version B would be more appropriate. You could omit the information regarding a set and the sentence would still make sense, but if you omit the information about numerals it really doesn't. However, with both pieces of information present it is up to you which you choose.

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    But set can be plural when it refers to a plural thing, just like any other collective noun in English. A group of people are waiting for you.
    – tchrist
    Sep 25, 2015 at 7:36
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Both singular and plural are possible. If the relative clause describes the entire collection as a single entity (a set of numerals), use singular; otherwise (numerals) use plural.

Here is a list of examples:

Singular

  • It is relatively easy to envisage a series of events that mutates into a sort of cold war 2.0 between the US and China. from
  • Most of us, regardless of religion, are brought up with a set of values that underlines the importance of doing just this. from
  • A set of ideas that serves to show the modern west is the high point of human development. from
  • You pass through metal detectors and through an exhibition space to a set of lifts that takes you to the ninth floor. from
  • At its heart is a series of documents that now sits in the National Archive. from

Plural

  • It is a window on to a set of arguments that are becoming part of the fabric of many places. from
  • They suffered a series of misfortunes that still offer the darkest possible material. from
  • He made a series of appeals that were turned down. from
  • Consider a series of possibilities that verge on the probable. from
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The verb is driven by the noun "a set of numerals" not by numerals themselves. So "appears" would be good choice. This is similar to

An army of soldiers marches along.

Even though the soldiers March individually, we are talking about the army, not the soldiers.

Hope this helps.

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