Do you use Singular or Plural with “A Number Of”?

Even though ‘number’ is singular and ‘numbers’ are plural, if you are using the phrase ‘a number of’ it should always be followed by a plural, and countable, noun. This common phrase always means more than one and should follow English grammar rules. 

Continue reading on to learn more about why ‘a number of’ is followed by plurality even though the word itself is singular, the definition and etymology of the phrase, and examples of how to use this phrase correctly in common sentences.

Definition and Etymology of ‘A Number Of’

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘a number of’ means more than two but fewer than many. The phrase is considered an idiom and is commonly used in professional, casual, and even academic writings.

While the etymology of the phrase ‘a number of’ is hard to pinpoint in time, idioms themselves first appear in the 15th century in Greek writings. Idioms are groups of words or phrases in which the meaning cannot be deduced from the words alone. Furthermore, for non-native English speakers, idioms are one of the most difficult parts of the English language to learn.

‘A Number Of’ Plural vs. Singular

Despite the fact that this particular idiom employs a singular word, the words that follow this phrase will always be plural in nature. This is due to the fact that the word ‘number’ in this context is supposed to mean more than two, but fewer than a large number of whatever the subject is.

Three frogs sitting on a log would be considered a number of frogs. A frog sitting on a log, however, can be written as ‘a frog’ or ‘one frog.’ 16 frogs sitting on a log could be considered many, however, the writer will be the ultimate deciding factor in what the meaning of many is.

Real Word Examples of ‘A Number Of’

There are many times in different types of writing, whether it be technical or casual, that you may want to use the phrase ‘a number of’ to describe an object or sentence subject. Here are a few real-world examples of how you could employ this phrase in a grammatically correct way:

  • There were a number of issues that needed to be fixed before the software could be deployed.
  • She gave a number of reasons why she could not attend the conference this weekend.
  • You can use the phrase ‘a number of’ in a number of ways.