I just typed this sentence into Microsoft Word, "A total of four people were going", and it wants to correct the 'were' to 'was'. Why? 'Was' definitely sounds wrong when I say it out loud. 

Original Post

Hi, Kezi, and welcome to G.E,

kezi posted:

I just typed this sentence into Microsoft Word, "A total of four people were going", and it wants to correct the 'were' to 'was'. Why? 'Was' definitely sounds wrong when I say it out loud. 

I see this question is highly problematic, so I'd like just to express my opinion about it. On 'LDOCE', we have two examples that summarize my opinion:

1. A total of thirteen meetings were held to discuss the issue.

2. A total of $950 million was spent on the new transportation system.

I see 'a total of' works like 'collective nouns'. It could be followed by a singular or a plural verb depending on how the speaker sees the individuals of the group. I think that is why it is grammatically correct to say: - There is / are a total of (+ a plural noun). It is also noticeable that, in most formal exams, we see that 'a total of' is mostly followed by a singular verb as then we consider it the head of the subject. On the other hand, 'the total' works the same as 'the number' and should be followed by a singular verb.

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