On page 4 of the Metro newspaper today (it's distributed free on all the Edinburgh buses, so whatever its faults, the price is right) I read this sentence:
A record number of companies has been formed by Edinburgh University in the past 12 months, taking the total created over the past five years to 184.
A grammar tragedy. It's a verb agreement error. The writer recalls being told sternly that the verb must agree with the head noun of the subject noun phrase, and number seems to be the head noun, so common sense has been thrown to the winds, and the verb has wrongly been put into the singular agreement form—which, of course, is what the simplistic how-to-write books seem to demand.
In this case the correct agreement form happens to be the one that comports with the meaning: the University of Edinburgh has not been forming a number over the past year; it is the companies that have been formed, a record number of them. The singular agreement makes no sense. Lesson: verb agreement is not as mechanical and syntactic as the oversimplified handbook versions would have you believe.
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