Today I ran across another sentence where I did not know whether to use a singular or plural verb.
A total of 37 wells [is / are] required to reach this level of production.
The word “total” is singular, but the expression “37 wells” would require a plural verb. Flummoxed again, I had to go look it up.
Enter Professor Jan Johnson Yopp, instructor of the grammar session at the 2005 Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors, hosted by the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The good professor says to use a singular verb with quantity, bunch, pack, and group.
A large quantity of tools was stolen from the Bandersnatch #5 rig.
A bunch of employees is gathered around the coffee pot waiting for it to finish brewing.
A pack of cigarettes costs more than a gallon of gasoline in every state.
A group of AADE members is writing The Drilling Encyclopedia.
Other aggregate words such as number, majority, and total are singular if preceded by “the,” but plural if preceded by “a.”
A number of people believe that oil prices will go up. (plural, preceded by a)
The number of people who believe that oil prices will rise has grown. (singular, the)
A majority of Virginia residents support offshore drilling. (plural, preceded by a)
The majority of Virginia residents is supportive of offshore drilling. (singular, the)
A total of 15 reservoir engineers were transferred overseas. (plural, preceded by a)
The total of 15 reservoir engineers was far less than the number needed. (singular, the)
So let’s return to our Confounding Sentence and see which verb we should use. Because the word “total” is preceded by “a,” it should be plural, therefore:
A total of 37 wells are required to reach this level of production.
Prepositional phrases after the subject generally do not affect the verb tense, according to Professor Yopp, except in the case of “percent,” as we saw yesterday.
The contracts committee of six engineers and three lawyers meets every Tuesday.
One in four summer interns has been offered a full-time job after graduation.
These singular subjects take a singular verb even though a prepositional phrase containing a plural comes between them.