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How to Write Percents

Should you use the word or symbol? Is "percent" singular or plural?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #101

Singular or Plural?

Now, earlier this afternoon Shaun Klein asked me on Twitter whether percentages are singular or plural, and as is so often the case, the answer is "It depends." If you're referring to a percentage of something, then that something determines whether you use a singular or plural verb. (In technical terms, that "something" is called the object of the preposition. The preposition is the word of.) Here's an example:

Forty percent of the chocolate is missing. (In that sentence the chocolate is singular so you use a singular verb.)

Forty percent of the chocolate chips are missing. (In that sentence the chocolate chips is plural so you use a plural verb.)

But what if there's no preposition or object of the preposition after the word percent? You've lost your clue! First, ask yourself if it's implied. If the implied phrase is singular use a singular verb, and if it's plural use a plural verb. Here's an example:

The chocolate chips were pillaged. [new sentenc Forty percent were missing. (In the second sentence, the plural phrase--the chocolate chips--is the implied object of the preposition, so you use the plural verb--were.)

In the next example, the implied object is singular so you use a singular verb:

The chocolate was pillaged. Forty percent was missing.

Finally, if you have no way to figure out whether the word percent is referring to something singular or plural, you can use whatever verb you like--singular or plural--it's that easy (5).

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