Deane’s question: “Is it okay to write ‘Most of the population speaks English.’ Or should it be ‘Most of the population speak English.’
BizWritingTip response: This question deals with subject and verb agreement and collective nouns.
Words such as all, none, any, some, more and most are considered pronouns. The verb following may be singular or plural depending on the noun these pronouns represent. (The noun usually shows in the of phrase that follows.)
None of us are going to the conference. (The “of us” phrase makes the pronoun and verb plural.)
Some of the report was inaccurate. (The “of the report” makes the pronoun and verb singular.)
Most of the people are available. (The word “people” is always treated as plural.)
However, the word “population” may be treated as a single or as a plural noun. If the writer is using it in the sense of a whole unit (a collective noun), the word and the following verb are singular.
The population speaks English. (Everyone does.)
But when you place most of in front of “population,” you are no longer referring to a whole unit. Therefore, the word and the following verb are plural.
Most of the population speak English.