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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reader Question: "More Than One"

Irfan has a good question:

The problem that I am having concerns the use of 'More than a certain value' and then the use of the appropriate form of the verb to be; in case of the latest poll, the statement would be: More than one is correct.

According to my understanding, More than one translates into, or should translate into, at least two and possibly more; now if that interpretation of the phrase before the auxiliary is correct, then how can we justify the use of 'is' instead of 'are' as the correct form of the verb.

Sentence Sleuth here:
According to Bryan Garner ("Garner's Modern American Usage," p. 779), "The phrase 'more than one' generally takes a singular verb, not a plural one ... even though the sense is undeniably plural."

Garner goes on to explain some nuances, but the bottom line is that you use a singular verb.


Anonymous said...

What if you added a plural noun to the phrase or made the elliptical "one" a greater number -- "more than two is/are (?) required for this class,"more than three is/are (?) insufficient," more than three comments are intolerable.

So the verb is agreeing with the subject proper--"one"?

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Would you use a plural verb with just the word "more"? More is better, right? So I think even though "more" indicates a plural concept the word itself is singular. Weird, I know!