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One in ten, two out of three

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I'm trying to work out the 'rules' for using 'in' or 'out of' in this context. It seems to me that 'in' doesn't sound much good in example d:

a. One in ten people drive a Ford.
b. Two out of ten people drive a Ford.
c. Two out of three people drive a Ford.
d. Two in three people drive a Ford.

I've been thinking about it too long, what do others think?
AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 14:51
I think you can use in, in every, of, and out of interchangeably. I doubt that a rule can be formulated. You can even leave people out sometimes.

By the way, make that

One in every ten people drives a Ford.
Two of ten drive Fords.

(The other 80%, who have more sense, drive Hondas.)
#1AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 14:53
That was my next question :-) - The Cambridge Guide to English Usage says that the plural verb in a. is more common in the UK than a singular verb, but I can't find this in Fowler's; I'm guessing that prescriptive grammarians prefer the singular, but does anyone have a source?

Re the original question: I just feel a bit funny about somebody else's 'two in three people' and am inclined to change it to 'two out of three', as it sounds a bit off to me.
#2AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 15:02
It seems to me that 'in' doesn't sound much good in ...

Google disagrees fairly strongly, so I think it's a matter of taste / euphony rather than something you could formulate a rule for. Personally I prefer "One person in ten" for the singular version anyway.

#1 I would normally use a singular verb after "one in ten", but that's a matter of taste too, as far as BE is concerned.
#3Authorcaptain flint (782544) 22 Feb 12, 15:07
I agree with your comment about example d. I wouldn't say two in three.
#4AuthorSD3 (451227) 22 Feb 12, 15:08
Those who prefer subject and verb agreement will write

One drives a Ford. Or, for purpose of illustration: Of every ten, one drives a Ford.

I don't see how anyone can argue with that, not even round-heeled permissivists.
#5AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 15:16
#5 It depends on whether you see 'one in ten' as talking about one single person, or about a group of people representing ten per cent of a population - e.g. 33 people in a population of 330.

It does sound like the 'in' or 'out of' might just be personal preference, then. I'll leave the original translation alone; thanks for the help.
#6AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 15:19
related discussion: "10 out of 32" versus "10 of 32"
... not that that ever got very far.

Does it make a difference if it's reporting actual people as opposed to a statistical estimate? *f5* I see CM2DD was thinking along the same lines in #6 ...

One in ten Americans is content with the current political situation.
One of ten undecided voters in the focus group approved of the ad.

I don't know, they all start to sound funny when you reread them.

Does it make a difference if it's rock samples or migratory birds or something instead of people?

#7Authorhm -- us (236141) 22 Feb 12, 15:20
There is no possible way that one out of ten is more than one person.
#8AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 15:42
#8 I know you do things differently in the US; we Brits are weird. But maybe another example will help you see where we are coming from? You know how we say 'the majority of people drive a Ford', not 'the majority of people drives a Ford'? It's a little bit like that: you're understanding 'one in ten people' and 'the majority of people' as describing a group, rather than looking at the words 'majority' or 'one' separately.
#9AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 15:48
CM: no, people in UK are not at all weird; wired maybe, weird, no.

I understand your point, and I agree that in the cases you cite, one can use singular or plural, according to preference.

However, one in ten is not such a case at all. One is purely and simply one and cannot be construed as a collective noun. One in ten.

Incidentally, I don't think, even in UK, that the majority drive a Ford. That would be quite a few in one vehicle. I could believe that the majority drive Fords, but more likely they drive Minis.
#10AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 16:40
Looked up your lovely US term 'round-heeled', btw, and that was a surprise :-) Maybe it's less arrestingly graphic when you don't have to look it up in a dictionary to see what it means? :-D
#11AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 16:44
Please pardon my crudeness. As you can see, I don't think much of permissiveness in grammar.
#12AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 16:51
(People who are not scornful about others' usage are grammar sluts? How extremely ... yes, well.)

Now that you mention it, CM2DD, yes, maybe 'one in ten' would be used more with the plural because it really means 10%. That was partly what I was trying to think through in #7.

One in ten Americans are content with the current political situation.

Better, or at least equally okay?
#13Authorhm -- us (236141) 22 Feb 12, 16:54
There is no possible way that one out of ten is more than one person. ...what?! One out of ten means ten per cent as far as I know, not only in the wired UK, here some American (yes, this includes Canadian) examples:

Anyway, I'd say 'in' works only with 'one', and 'out of' works for anything, or would you say 'five in a hundred' or 'three in ten'...?
#14AuthorSage N. Fer Get K.S.C. (382314) 22 Feb 12, 17:07
No, they're not grammarians at all, almost by definition.
#15AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 17:08
OT re #11: Looked up your lovely US term 'round-heeled'

I take it Bob C. edited that out, eh? :-)
#16AuthorKinkyAfro (587241) 22 Feb 12, 17:19
Nope, it's still in #5 (and directed partly at me) ...
#17Authorcaptain flint (782544) 22 Feb 12, 17:21
Bl**dy double-posting...
#18Authorcaptain flint (782544) 22 Feb 12, 17:22
I think it's a reaction to my (presumably steel-tipped-stiletto-heeled) prescriptive grammarians in #2.
#19AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 17:27
No, Captain, it's not directed at you, even in part, nor at anything CM said (indeed, how could it be a reaction to "prescriptive" grammar?). It's a general observation and only my opinion, and anyone can take it or leave it. We can even discuss it dispassionately, if anyone's of a mind, which might be interesting.
#20AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 17:29
I deliberately avoid 'one in XYZ' simply because of the number concord problem. But intuitively, 'one in ten' sounds more plural than 'one out of every ten', but don't ask me why.
#21Authorescoville (237761) 22 Feb 12, 17:53
I'm happy discussing the original question in this thread.
Anyone not interested could always give karink some more help next door.

CM2DD, you asked about sources; you may have already checked Michael Swan, who doesn't express an opinion:

§389 Numbers ...
3: singular or plural verbs ...
After expressions like one in three, one out of five + plural noun, both singular and plural verbs are possible.
One in three new cars break/breaks down in the first year.
(p. 362)

Bryan Garner is more prescriptive:

Subject-Verb Agreement ...
J. One in five; one of every five. This construction takes a singular: one in three is not admitted, one of every five achieves a perfect score, etc. See one in [number] is.
(p. 625)

I didn't see it in Fowler/Burchfield either, either under 'one' or under 'agreement,' which is not to say it might not be somewhere else.

#22Authorhm -- us (236141) 22 Feb 12, 17:59
With words that indicate portions — percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none, remainder, and so forth — look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb.

Fifty percent of the pie has disappeared.
Pie is the object of the preposition of.
Fifty percent of the pies have disappeared.
Pies is the object of the preposition.
One-third of the city is unemployed.
One-third of the people are unemployed.


I basically agree with the above approach. In example a, "one" is not the subject. The subject is "one in ten people."
#23AuthorSD3 (451227) 22 Feb 12, 18:02
I think Michael Swan is no more an authority than quite a few of us, so I'm not sure he needs to be quoted here. Which is not to say his observations are incorrect.
#24Authorescoville (237761) 22 Feb 12, 18:10
Well, Swan is published worldwide and we're not, that's not chump change. (-: His book isn't aimed at native speakers seeking picky usage tips, true, but it probably is adequate for ESL/EFL reference, such as TOEFL/Cambridge (on which I trust this wouldn't appear).

And the more I think about this, I tend to agree with him that it can go either way. So far, several of us leaned toward singular first, but then several of us had reservations when it represents a percentage or quantity and thus not just one individual.

Maybe still others will weigh in.

We do all at least seem to agree that we're not fond of (d).
#25Authorhm -- us (236141) 22 Feb 12, 18:25
Thanks to #23 for pointing out that one is the subject of the sentence: Of ten people, one drives a Ford. Good point.

Two in three is a common way of expressing it, whether it suits any one of us or not. But this is not an opinion poll or popularity contest.
#26AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 18:52
In the universe I inhabit, 'one in ten people' is short for 'one person in every ten people'. If I actually wrote the 'person' I'd also use the singular verb, as that shows you really are thinking of it as one person, not as a percentage.

I was actually polling opinions when I started the thread, btw!
#27AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 19:00
Two out of six amateur grammarians believe. . . .
#28AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 19:05
Yes, indeed. Each person has a nugget of information, and I put the nuggets all together to make a complete chicken.
#29AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 19:08
OT re #29: I put the nuggets all together to make a complete chicken

I'm lovin' it! (Pardon the weak pun - and apologies to grammarians ;-))
#30AuthorKinkyAfro (587241) 22 Feb 12, 19:14
'one in ten people' is (strictly speaking) an odd phrase anyway, as CM2DD points out, because 'people' in this sense has no singular, so you have to invent a fictive noun for 'one'.

But to paraphrase Himself: 'Language was made for man, not man for language.'

The rules governing singulars and plurals and associated concord are different in every language, so there's no use in appealing to logic.

One could ponder on the singularities/pluralities of the sentence:

'Less than one in ten thousand girls who turn their backs on the fair city of Chelmsford find themselves living with German husbands in Dresden.'

#31Authorescoville (237761) 22 Feb 12, 19:21
Fewer than one? (And who is Himself?)

Once, long ago, there was a thread in which, in vain, I defended the position that the plural of person is persons, not people--and even that people (in this sense) has no singular. Have I finally found someone who agrees?

(So CM, you mean MacNuggets?)
#32AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 19:25
Well, Swan is published worldwide and we're not,

True. Swan was an EFL teacher (in Oxford, I think) in the 1960s when EFL teaching was amateurish (in both the good and bad senses) and the materials available to EFL teachers ranged (with few exceptions) from the non-existent to the quite atrocious. What Swan did was to assemble, arrange and then eventually publish his answers to the questions his students asked him. The answers came from introspection and staff-room chats. I think he did it very well. It makes him a good source of ideas.
#33Authorescoville (237761) 22 Feb 12, 19:33
@ 32

1. Yes, probably I should have said 'fewer'.

2. Cf. Mark 2, 27

3. depends whether we're talking about the grammatical plural or the semantic plural. You have a case, certainly.
#34Authorescoville (237761) 22 Feb 12, 19:40
Thanks to #23 for pointing out that one is the subject of the sentence
That is certainly not my interpretation of "one" is not the subject.
#35AuthorSD3 (451227) 22 Feb 12, 19:44
In Chelmsford there's no such word as 'fewer', so put it down to Lokalkolorit.
#36AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 19:45
Esco, I don't see how you can have fewer than one girl in ten thousand, but anyway, it's still girl, not girls

SD, one is the subject of the sentence, and of ten, is a prepositional phrase: of ten drivers, one owns a Ford.
#37AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 20:25
"There is no possible way that one out of ten is more than one person."

I don't think I have ever seen this construction used to refer to a single person (implying a statistical population of 10).

If anyone did use it in such a way, I would be inclined to ask them the name of the person.

* "Of the authorities consulted, only one in ten (Chambers, Heritage, Longman, and Simon) insists on the singular."
#38AuthorMikeE (236602) 22 Feb 12, 20:33
Right, "only one insists."

Another way to demonstrate this is to delete every thing except the subject and the verb, and you still have a sentence: "one insists."

But delete one, and you do not: "Of the authorities consulted, only in ten (Chambers, Heritage, Longman, and Simon) insists on the singular".

What could be more singular than one?
#39AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 20:44
Is this another case of "logic of the language," Bob? Have you, by the way, provided a reference for that concept, so that I can look it up?
#40AuthorSD3 (451227) 22 Feb 12, 20:58
What could be less singular than 4 named persons representing 10 percent of a total population of 40?
#41AuthorMikeE (236602) 22 Feb 12, 20:59
SD, if you detect a flaw in my argument, feel free to state it.

Whether or not there is a reference to support it, I do not know. But what if there is not? In these discussions we frequently encounter questions for which no one can find an authority to guide us. In such cases, we must think for ourselves.

Sorry #41, I don't quite follow.

#42AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 21:06
So, there is no source for "the logic of the language."

we must think for ourselves Yes, indeed we must think for ourselves based on what we know of standard English usage.

We may say half a loaf is better than none, but we do not, in my experience, say half the people is sitting on the far side of the stadium. Why? Let me suggest that it's because we are referring to an unspecified number people (although more than one person). Otherwise, we would say one person is sitting ....

Similarly, when we say one in ten people drive a Ford car, we do not mean one single person drives a Ford car. If we meant that, we would say that.

#43AuthorSD3 (451227) 22 Feb 12, 21:14
I don't see how you can have fewer than one girl in ten thousand
Now that you mention it, that's quite a good argument in favour of 'less' :-)
#44AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 21:29
CM, ok, but I still don't see how there can be less than one girl.

SD, as already pointed out, when we say one person in ten drives a Ford, we mean in ten people, one drives a Ford. The prepositional phrase can go at the beginning, in the middle, or even at the end of the sentence, but that changes nothing.
#45AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 21:40
#39 etc.
It might be logical to use "one in ten" with the singular when you are dealing with figurative writing, where the reader is expected to imagine a single person, selected from an actual sample of 10 individual people.

However, when "one in ten" is a phrase implying more than one person, it is not necessarily logical to use a singular verb - not that logic is a sure guide to standard usage, even when your logic is neither faulty nor based on false premises.

I think you need to familiarize yourself with the concept of a noun phrase. The fact that one part of the noun phrase is singular does not imply that the whole phrase is singular.

Examples of noun phrases that contain grammatically singular elements:

"one author"
"one in ten grammarians"
"Jack and Jill"
"one or two of the pavillions"
"one or more contributors"
"one third of the respondents"

Some of these noun phrases, when used as a subject,require a singular verb; some require a plural verb, and some can be used with either, depending on the writer's intention.

This may also help you understand why you cannot normally have "fewer than one girl" but you can have less than one girl in a thousand.
#46AuthorMikeE (236602) 22 Feb 12, 21:46
The nebulous concept "noun phrase" is of no help here.

In "one author," one is an adjective, not a number.
I don't know what "Jack and Jill" have to do with one.
In "one or two of the pavillions," there is a compound subject (one or two), as there is in "one or more contributors," so a plural verb would be in order.
As already agreed above, "one-third of the respondents" may take a singular or plural verb, depending on where you live.

However, in the case of one in ten grammarians, as already demonstrated by at least two different methods, a singular verb is called for.
#47AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 22:11
"one-third of the respondents" may take a singular or plural verb, depending on where you live
Same for 'one in ten of the respondents', it would appear. Remember that the majority of British people use the plural (says Oxford), so you may well have 30 million people or more tapping on your door if you call our collective judgement into question :-)

In real life you can't have less than one girl without committing a crime, but if you were going to divide her up into fractions I think you would use the term 'less', unless you added 'pieces' and made it 'fewer'.
#48AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 22:21
CM, that is no doubt true, but as is so often the case in English, prevalent usage is grammatically wrong.

I often wish I could speak to the authors of reference works such as Oxford to see whether they would agree. I've corresponded with lexicographers at Merriam-Webster, but Oxford seems inaccessible.

We've cited authorities on both sides of the issue, so everyone can safely go either way. However, those who follow the herd (permissivists) will use plural, those who can think about language for themselves will take singular.
#49AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 22:25
Or you could divide it into those who bow down to self-appointed authority and those who do what makes sense to them.
#50AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 22:34
As I have already said, if you find something mistaken in my argument, it would be better to point it out. Until someone does, it stands.
#51AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 22:37
Yes, why doesn't someone come up with a counter-argument? :-)
#52AuthorCM2DD (236324) 22 Feb 12, 22:41
However, those who follow the herd (permissivists) will use plural, those who can think about language for themselves will take singular.

Did you just delete this, Bob, or are my eyes playing tricks on me?
#53AuthorSD3 (451227) 22 Feb 12, 22:44
SD, I did indeed. Sometimes even LEO doesn't like what I write!
#54AuthorBob C. (254583) 22 Feb 12, 22:53
OT re #51: if you find something mistaken in my argument, it would be better to point it out. Until someone does, it stands.

It seems Bob C isn't the only poster on LEO today/tonight with that sort of attitude: see related discussion: sich eine Zeitung halten ? - #9
#55AuthorKinkyAfro (587241) 22 Feb 12, 22:53
My own feeling for good BE style is that the original a and d both were unnatural. Where "in" is used, I would use it like this:

a: One person in ten drives a Ford.
d: Two people in three drive a Ford.

Where "out of" is used, the "people" naturally comes at the end so that b and c are fine.
#56AuthorEcgberht (469528) 23 Feb 12, 00:41
Ecgberht, if you say you're in favor of one person in ten drives a Ford, you'll incur the wrath of all LEOs here present.
#57AuthorBob C. (254583) 23 Feb 12, 03:47
"Fewer than one girl in 10,000" means, for example, "One girl in 20,000".

"Less than one girl in 10,000" means, perhaps, half a girl in 6,000...

Or perhaps not.

Different languages have different logics*, and we shouldn't get pedantic unless the meaning becomes unclear (i.e. unless communication is endangered).

*Why is spaghetti singular in English? (Answer: because English spaghetti is singular.)
#58Authorescoville (237761) 23 Feb 12, 08:19
Wie nennt man denn einzelne Spaghetti? Ist das ein Spaghetto?
#59AuthorRestitutus (765254) 23 Feb 12, 09:01
A piece of spaghetti.

I don't think any position here will incur the wrath of anyone else unless it's stated in a way that appears to sneer at everyone else, or to ignore the fact that subject-verb agreement in English is sometimes determined by phrases rather than individual words.

Most of the rest of us seem content to consider a range of collocations and contexts. I would be okay with either 'One person in ten drives a red car,' or 'One in ten people drives a red car / drive red cars,' or possibly something else.
#60Authorhm -- us (236141) 23 Feb 12, 09:10
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