Hallo Mr. Snuggs

In your version of Choong´s Text about obesity you wrote: "A large number of humans seem to have a predilection....."

Should not you write "seemS"? Isn´t the subject  "number"?

Thank you



Thank you for this interesting question, but there are of course multiple humans. THAT is the point!!

You are right in strict logic, but in usage we prefer to do it as shown. It's the same with:

"The majority of people are ......." and not "is"

"A large number of invitations have been sent out."

The rule for collective nouns is this: Use a singular verb when the group is considered as a unit acting together.  Use a plural verb when the individual members of the group are acting separately.

  • Our family goes on vacation together every August.
  • The family have been unable to agree on a vacation site this year.
  • The committee insists on having its proposal presented to the mayor.
  • The committee are still arguing over whom to send as their representative to the mayor.

When the actual word "number" is involved, there is a general rule that makes it easy to decide on a verb.

According to H. W. Fowler, w
hen the word number itself is itself the subject it is a safe rule to treat it as singular when it has a definite article and as plural when it has an indefinite.

The number of people present was large
, but

A large number  of people were present.

Before the conclave begins in a fortnight's time a number of details has to be settled.

the singular is clearly wrong; it is the details that have to be settled, not the number; a number of details is a composite subject equivalent to numerous details

  • The expression the number takes a singular verb, but a number takes a plural verb.
  • The number of candidates for the position was large.
  • A number of candidates were applying for the position.
  • The number of people moving to the Southwest is increasing.
  • A number of business firms have moved from New York.
I hope that's a bit clearer! Well spotted!!