Is This Gramatically Correct?

Don’t need the answer fast.

“Approximately what percentage of your workforce have the following secondary educational degrees?”

Is it “have” because workforce is inherently plural? Or is it “has” because grouping the workforce together makes is singular?

Or is there an even fancier English grammar reason for one or the other?

“Have” for the reason you offer.

I am reminded of the request sent out by the Foreign Office to all the Embassies requesting a detailed list of all employees broken down by age and sex.

Yeah, “workforce” is one of those collective nouns that’s generally treated as a plural. Except when it isn’t.

Similar weirdness is seen in collective nouns like “audience”, for example. You would say, for instance, “The audience is not responding to the jokes”, singular because you’re talking about the behavior of the audience as a unified entity.

But you would also say “The audience have all kept their coats on because the heating system’s not working”, plural because you’re talking about the individual audience members in their individual coats.

And in your example, the question is really about the individuals making up different parts of your workforce demarcated by their educational degrees, so it certainly should be treated as plural.

With collective nouns, both singular and plural are used, with some variation among dialects: British English tends to be more permissive in use of the plural.

Likewise, with parts of a collective expressed in so many different ways (one fifth, two tenths, twenty percent…) there’s really no way to apply any completely consistent logical rule. There are so many variations, I’d just choose what sounds subjectively best and not worry about it.

In general US English treats a group noun like “workforce” as singular, while British English treats it as plural. However in this case I would say that “percentage” is the subject, which is singular, so it should be “has”.

My first inclination was the same as yours, markn, but then I thought about a sentence like:

“Twenty percent [have/has] seen the movie.”

In that sentence, I’d unfailingly go with “have” (and I don’t think the issue is the fact that it’s 20% - I’d say the same if 1% was used).

To me, it should be “has” because percentage is singular. There is only one percentage, and the question is wanting to know what it is. The “of the workforce” is a only a modifier for percentage, qualifying which percentage is of interest.

But, what do I know? I’m an Engineer.

Also: Ninjaed!


Two my ears, it should be has- we are talking of the percentage of a singular collective.

The movie example would be have- the implied plural collective being “Twenty per cent {of all people} have seen the movie.”

Brits were mentioned upthread…and I believe they use it universally in the plural, even in your first example.

I only remember this because when Spinal Tap performed with the miniature Stonehenge the aggrieved Yoko-Ono equivalent lamented “the audience were laughing.”

Which sounded odd to my ears.

Around here the problem is more likely to be alcohol.

Yes, and yes.

The grammatical subject of the sentence is percentage. Therefore whether workforce is taken as singular or plural is irrelevant. On the other hand you can–and I will–argue that percentage is inherently plural. For whatever reason, “have” sounds better to me.

It’s a style matter. You get to choose what rule to follow.

Personally, I would say “percentage … has,” singular.

Dr. Girlfriend with a PhD in English votes “has”.

How about this sentence? :

“The percentage that [has/have] seen the movie [is/are] twenty.”

Thanks for the responses all!

I ended up going with “have” because it’s what I already had down and my boss is British and that’s what he’d be more familiar with anyway. Glad to see I wasn’t the only one kinda confused by this though…

Well you are grammatically incorrect. The noun is “percentage”, therefore the verb should be “has”.

“Has” is correct, for American English at least. That the choice depends on the singular noun percentage is obvious. People get confused because they try to make the choice based on what the answer will be, which is uncertain. Whether the answer calculates to “24 of our employees have” or “One of our employees has” or “None have” or Not a single one has" (all correct), the grammar of the answer does not impact the grammar of the question.

Yeah, I’m with Omar, et al. The subject is percentage and it takes has. ‘Of your workforce’ is a prepositional phrase and not relevant to the subject-verb agreement.

“Percentage” has the FORM of a singular noun–
but so does “people.”

Would you say “The people has spoken?” No; you would you say “The people have spoken.”

The usage for “percentage” comes down to personal preference, and how you think of things. To say that one way is definitely incorrect is itself incorrect.