Usage and Grammar

Q. “The majority of samples were/was extracted from regular biopsy procedures.” I think I should use “was,” but “were” sounds better to the ear. What is the correct way?

A. Many writers are told to ignore prepositional phrases when deciding on the number of the verb. But this advice doesn’t work in all cases. When the subject is “majority,” and a prepositional phrase with a plural object follows, it’s the object that usually determines the number of the verb. So choose “were.”

But note that “majority” may be either singular or plural even when used alone:

The majority usually wins.


The majority were wearing masks.

When in doubt, trust your instincts; if the sense of the sentence suggests a plural verb, use one.