Using the singular or plural form of a verb in sentences can confuse people. Often this happens when the verb is used with a prepositional phrase or designates an amount. Here we discuss the proper conjugation of some popular verbs used with the phrase “a total of.”
Is “A Total Of” Singular Or Plural?
As a prepositional phrase, “a total of” cannot be either singular or plural on its own. In grammar, the tense of the subject and verb must always agree. So the noun subject that precedes or follows it determines the tense of the verb that modifies it.
A general rule to use with the word “total” is that if it is preceded by the word “the,” it will describe a singular noun. If it is preceded by the word “a,” it describes a plural noun.
Because the phrase “a total of” begins with the word “a” the noun subject in the sentence must be plural. Note that the phrase “a total of” can appear either before the noun it describes or after the noun that it describes.
Here are some examples that further clarify this explanation.
- A total of 12 people were coming to the party.
- He owes me a total of $10 for the pizza.
In the first example, the verb “to be” is used in the plural past form of “were.” In the second example, the verb “owes” is used in its plural present form. Both of them correctly use the phrase “a total of.”
Is It “A Total Of…” Is Or Are?
When specifically conjugating the verb “to be” with “a total of,” you must always follow it with a plural noun subject for the sentence to be correctly understood. Therefore, the plural verb “are” is correct for a present tense sentence. The incorrect verb is the singular form of the verb “is.”
Here are some examples of how to use “a total of” in a sentence with the verb “to be.”
- A total of 15 cats are living in our backyard.
- A total of five people are sitting at our table.
- A total of ten rockets are being launched into space.
- A total of six children are coming to the birthday dinner.
- A total of nine volunteers are needed for the event.
Notice that in these examples, the subjects are all plural (cats, people, rockets, children, and volunteers), so the verb “to be” is conjugated as the third-person plural present tense.
Is It “A Total Of…” Has Or Have?
When the preposition phrase “a total of” is used with the helping verb “have,” the noun subject of the sentence must also be plural. Therefore, grammar rules regarding “subject-verb agreement” dictate that the correct phrase uses the plural form of the verb and is “A total of… have.”
Here are some examples of how to use “a total of” in a sentence with the verb “have.”
- A total of five of us have been to that park before.
- A total of ten snakes have been found in our garden.
- A total of twelve books have been donated to the school.
- A total of six plants have died in my garden this summer.
- A total of eight people have completed the survey.
- A total of nine doctors have tried to figure out what is wrong.
The examples here all have plural noun subjects (us, snakes, books, plants, people, doctors), so they require the use of the plural version of the verb “has.”
Is It “A Total Of…” Was Or Were?
To use the helping verb “was,” the sentence must have a singular subject. The prepositional phrase “a total of” requires a plural noun subject, so it requires the plural form of the verb. Therefore “were” is the correct format, and the correct phrase is “a total of … were.”
Here are some examples that show the proper use of the phrase “a total of… were” in a sentence.
- A total of nine students were suspended because of the prank.
- A total of three suspects were arrested in conjunction with the robbery.
- A total of four people were sick from eating spoiled food.
- A total of six kittens were found abandoned by their mother.
- A total of seven glasses were broken when I dropped the tray.
- A total of five awards were given to the top sales performers.
Note again that in each of these examples, the noun subject described by the prepositional phrase is something plural (students, suspects, people, kittens, glasses, awards).
Is It “The Total Number Of Students Is” Or “The Total Number Of Students Are”?
It is correct to say “the total number of students is,” and it is incorrect to say “the total number of students are.” The reason is that the noun described by the word “total” in this phrase is “number” and not “students.” “Number” is a singular noun.
Since “number” is singular, it follows the subject-verb agreement rules that dictate the singular form of the verb “to be” should be used. The singular form of the verb “to be” is “is.” This rule makes the phrase “the total number of students is” the grammatically correct one to use.
This situation also follows the general rule described earlier, which states that if the word “total” is preceded by the word “the,” it will describe a singular noun. If the word is preceded by the word “a,” it describes a plural noun.
Look at the word before the word “total” to determine proper subject-verb agreement.
Here are some examples that show the proper use of “the total number of students is” in a sentence.
- The total number of students applying for that scholarship is 240.
- The total number of students that graduated this year is 372.
“A Total Of” – Synonyms
If you don’t wish to use the prepositional phrase “a total of,” there are other phrases that you can use to convey the same meaning, including:
- In total
- The overall number
- A total amount
- All (i.e., “all eight of us)
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.