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Plural agreement with a syntactically singular subject

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Many quantity words trigger agreement with their object rather than themselves. For instance, syntactically, "a lot, "a bunch", "an amount" seem to all be singular. However, as a native speaker, "There are a lot of people", with the plural form of the verb "are", seems just as grammatical as "There is a lot of people".

I am curious about how and when these "singular but plural" constructions came to be, and how they can be analyzed. From intuition, I would hazard a guess that "a lot of", "a bunch of" etc. used to be simple measurements in the same way we would say "a pound of" (though "a pound of" still takes singular agreement in modern English) and later became lexicalized, but this is merely my own conjecture.

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Semantic agreement (1 comment)

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In your example, "lot", bunch", "amount", are collective nouns. There are many collective nouns that aren't quantifiers. For example: "Microsoft have never said they have extended the free period." or "The team agreed."

Collective nouns that denote various groupings of animals appear to have started as an upper class hunting fad in England, during the 14th and 15th century. I am unable to find any earlier examples although I have made some attempts.

Your examples of quantifiers either didn't exist as nouns, or were used with singular verbs exclusively prior to 15th century, which is consistent with the possibility that they got reinterpreted or inspired by the collective nouns originating from hunting jargon (which was no longer mere hunting jargon a few generations down the line).

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AME vs BRE split (4 comments)

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