Another quality entry from California Teacher Guy!
My Dear Mrs. Chili,
Which of the following sentences is correct?
There were a total of six ads.
There was a total of six ads.
One of those sentences came directly from John Grisham’s The Appeal. Can you guess which one it was?
Okay, here’s my take on this; technically, the subject of that sentence is total. Remember that the subject of a sentence doesn’t come in an “of” phrase, so “ads” isn’t the subject of the sentence. That being said, was is the correct form of the to be verb; because total is singular (there was a total) then the verb should also be singular.
That being said, I’m finding that, more and more, I’m hearing the plural verb being used to reflect the plural “of” phrases; things like there were a ton of seagulls at the beach today or that group of teenagers were the loudest I’ve ever heard. I still hitch when I hear these sorts of constructions (the subjects in those sentences are “ton” and “group,” both of which are singular) but I concede that the use of plural verbs is very common when there’s a plural object in question.
So, CTG, the short answer to your question is that *I* think the right construction is There was a total of six ads. That’s what I’d write, and as a teacher and copy editor, that’s what I’d correct the first sentence to read.
I also love that you wrote Which of the following sentences is correct? You made my point before we even started this conversation. I dig that about you!
Happy Wednesday, Everyone! Keep those GW questions coming!