Tricky Tuesday: Half and Other Fractions

numbers
Picture via Pixabay

Half is a weird word because it can be either singular or plural.

Example 1: Half of a pie was left after we each ate a slice.

In this sentence, a singular verb (was) is used since I am referring to half of a singular object (pie).

Example 2: Half of the sodas were left after we each drank one.

In this sentence, a plural verb (were) is used since I am referring to half of multiple objects (sodas).

Fractions can be tricky since sometimes they are plural, even though a fraction is usually less than 1. For example, all of the following are correct:

  • Three quarter teaspoons
  • Three quarters of a teaspoon
  • Three eighths of a truckload
  • .375 truckloads (read aloud as “point three seven five truckloads”)

Usually in writing, it’s best to write a fraction as “half” or “three eighths,” etc. Only use decimals when it is important to be accurate and a simple fraction can’t be easily conveyed, as in “that house is worth $3.279 million.” If the house were worth $3.5 million, you could say “that house is worth three and a half million dollars” or “that house is worth $3.5 million.” It all depends on the context.

There really isn’t a rule that applies across the board with fractions, so sometimes it is best to check a dictionary if you are unsure. Or you could always check with your editor!

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