Mrs. Chili is stumped on this one, kids. Help a girl out.
I was driving to work yesterday listening, as is my habit, to NPR. My local station’s anchor was reporting on our gray and yucky weather pattern and she said something very much like this (I’m going from memory as I don’t take notes while I’m driving):
We’ve got some more rain in the forecast through this evening; one to three inches of rain is expected by nightfall.
I walked into the college and headed straight for the Goddess of the Front Desk. She’s my go-to girl for things like this; she and I share a love of our language and she revels in geeky research projects (she loved me for sending her off on a quest to settle a metonymy vs. synechdoche question last week). I relayed the weather quote and she looked at me a little blankly.
“In that sentence,” I explained, “INCHES is the subject. The subject of a sentence can’t come after the word ‘of,’ right? So if ‘inches’ is the subject, shouldn’t the verb be plural? Shouldn’t the sentence read one to three inches of rain ARE expected?”
We couldn’t come up with the answer. One to three inches IS sounds right, but that’s probably because we’re so used to hearing “rain” (or, just as likely, “snow“) – a singular noun (or, rather, a non-count noun with singular properties) as the last word before the verb.
We tried it with other quantities – four gallons of milk and five pounds of chocolate – and decided that the plural verb sounded better in those cases – four gallons of milk are required for the commercial bakery class this morning and five pounds of chocolate are being delivered this afternoon, right to my door (I wish!) – but the singular verb still sounded better with the rain and snow, despite our mutual agreement that, grammatically, the plural verb is required.