This is the forum of To All a Good Write, a freelance-editing business in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Here, I provide observations, opinions and advice regarding the use of words and grammar in writing, editing and speech. At times light-hearted, at times a bit cynical, this blog’s goals are to simplify the complicated and make an often-dry subject more appealing.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Playing the percentages
Sorry for not posting for such a long time. I
kept putting off a new post because I was focusing on other things, and suddenly,
2 ½ weeks have sped by.
I’ll get back to posting with an issue that
pops up from time to time, and it can be confusing: Should you use a singular
verb or plural verb with the word percent?
This is fairly simple when a noun/pronoun follows
the phrase percent of. When a noun/pronoun
that follows percent of is singular,
use a singular verb. When a noun/pronoun that follows percent of is plural, use a plural verb. For example:
percent of the ocean is polluted.
percent of the oceans are polluted.
percent of it is polluted.
percent of them are polluted.
professor said 25 percent of the student body takes night classes.
professor said 25 percent of the students take night classes.
OK, that’s clear. But, what about when percent stands on its own? The
Associated Press Stylebook says percent
takes a singular verb when standing alone. Treat percent as a singular noun:
teacher said 60 percent is a failing grade.
OK, so what about when percent is standing alone,but
a noun/pronoun is implied after percent?
students are going on the field trip. Twenty-five percent (has or have) sent in permission slips.
The AP doesn’t address this issue, so I will.
Although percent is standing alone,
the implied construction (derived from the previous sentence and common sense) is
percent of students. Students is plural, so the verb should be
have. If there is no noun/pronoun
after percent but a noun/pronoun is
implied from context and common sense, determine whether it is singular or
plural and then use the appropriate verb.