A bunch of teachers have taken my grammar test.
Or is it… a bunch of teachers has taken my grammar test?
Why does the second sound so bizarre? Is the frequency with which we match apparent subjects like “a bunch” with “have” or “are” a lamentable pattern of grammatical laziness or is “bunch” just a special kind of word, rather than the noun it appears to be?
An interesting transition appears to have happened or be happening to English partitives and quantitatives, phrases like “a piece of”. Under certain circumstances, they seem to lose their grammatical class as noun phrases and are instead interpreted like adjectives, modifying a noun to come rather than being nouns themselves. You know the most common of these – “a lot of”, which appears to be a noun phrase with an indefinite article (“a”), a single noun (“lot”), and a prepositional phrase (“of ~”). In practice, “a lot of trees” is interpreted as a noun phrase about “trees”, not about a “lot”, which can see reflected in in the verb conjugations in sentences like “a lot of trees are in the park”, wherein “are” conjugates to match the plural noun “trees”. Needless to say, different noun phrases with a similar forms to “a lot of”, e.g. “a room with” or “a shot in”, are not treated this way – “a room with windows” is not a noun phrase about windows. I’ve never heard a sentence constructed like “a room with windows were open to let in the breeze” – have you?
You probably think I’m about to condemn a lot of the English teachers who took my survey for having bad grammar. No, I’m not. Instead, I’m about to propose a semi-regular change in grammatical class that most people’s (including my) notion of correct grammar hasn’t caught up with yet. I name this below the jump.