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'If I were' and 'people'
a number of people

Mohammed Abdul-Malek from Saudi Arabia asks:

1. When can I use ‘If I was…’?

2. Which is correct: ‘there is a number of people’ or ‘there are a number of people’?

3. An hour after 11 a.m., is it 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.?


Roger replies:more questions

1. If I was… is a colloquial alternative to If I were….

In speech, many English people say If I was…, but If I were… is held to be grammatically correct. It is better, therefore, to stick to If I were…, as in these two examples:

  • ‘If I were you, I’d fill the tank now so that we don’t run out of petrol.’

  • ‘If I were to call in on my way home from work, would that be all right?’
2. People are countable and therefore plural so you would say:
  • ‘There are a number of people in that room.’
Noise is uncountable and therefore takes the singular, so you might go on to say:
  • 'They are all speaking to each other, so there’s a lot of noise in there too.’
Similarly with apples and fruit for example:
  • ‘There was a lot of fruit in the basket, but there weren’t many apples on the tree.’
3. The afternoon begins at midday, so the hour after 11 a.m. is 12 p.m. Similarly, the evening ends at midnight, so the hour after 11 p.m. is 12 a.m. Do you remember what happened to Cinderella when the clock struck twelve?

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