Is "Number" Singular or Plural?

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"The Number" Is Singular

The phrase "the number" is singular. For example:
  • The number of visitors is increasing.
  • The number has dropped dramatically.
  • The number of votes was twenty-two.
The word "number" is singular when it refers to an arithmetical value. When used in this way, it is preceded by "the."

"A Number Of" Is Plural

The phrase "a number" is plural. For example:
  • A number of visitors are leaving.
  • A number have disappeared.
  • A number of votes were lost.
The word "number" is plural when means "some." When used in this way, it is preceded by "a."
Is number singular or plural?

What Type of Word Is "Number"?

When used in the phrase "the number," "number" is a common noun. It is similar to "quantity." However, when used in the term "a number," "number" is an indefinite pronouns. It is similar to "some."

More about "Number" as a Plural Indefinite Pronoun

The words "number" is classified as an indefinite pronouns when used in the term "a number." As an indefinite pronoun, "number" follows the same ruling as other indefinite pronouns such as "all," "any," "more," "most," and "some." These are singular when they refer to something singular but plural when they refer to something plural. For example:
  • Some of the cheese has been eaten.
  • Some of the biscuits have been eaten.
Therefore, the term "a number of" will always be plural because the object of the preposition "of" (i.e., the word that follows "of") will always be plural. (If it isn't, then you're not using "number" correctly.)

"A Number" Can be Singular

When "a number" refers to the number symbols (i.e., not letters), it can be singular. For example:
  • A number is visible beneath the varnish.

The Difference between "Amount" and "Number"

The word "amount" should be used with a single item. The word "number" should be used when there is more than one.
  • A large amount of people
  • (This is wrong because "people" is plural.)
  • A large amount of flour
  • (This is correct because "flour" is singular.)
  • A large number of people
Here is a real-life example showing the difference between "amount" and "number":
  • At that stage, a huge amount of sugar and a vast number of chocolate buttons are poured in and stirred. There is a short wait and then a seemingly infinite number of chocolates whizz along the belt.
Read more about using "amount," "quantity," and "number".
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Subject-verb agreement Are collective nouns singular or plural? Singular or plural verbs after prepositional phrases (e.g. a box of tapes)