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Success is a number/numbers game.

I was going through a novel where I found this sentence using numbers but success is a single entity that is singular. How can we use plural (numbers) here?

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2 Answers 2

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This phrase is not used in the same way as, say, "it's a word game" where the game is one played with words. The 'game' referred to is not one played with numbers, but played repeatedly until you win (ie succeed).

It refers to the concept that you will have to try many times (and fail) before you are successful. So success should be better described as a "game of retrying", but the number of attempts sounds better, hence "success is a numbers game". It is an informal form of speech, I doubt many people use it outside of a certain style of novel.

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Though the word success is a singular, it has no relation with the plural word 'numbers'. Because, 'a numbers game' is an idiom.

So, something is 'a numbers game' is absolutely okay.

Another thing that might have confused you could be the plural word 'numbers' with an indefinite article 'a'.

But then, it serves as a noun phrase.

Another example is -

There is an accounts department.

Though 'accounts' word is plural there, the indefinite article applies to the 'department' which is singular.

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