Half of the _ _ _ is/are (Singular or Plural) ?

Half of the students is / are absent.

Which one is correct?  

The noun following 'half of the' determines whether the verb that follows is singular or plural.  

Here 'students' is plural.  So the correct sentence is

Half of the students are absent.

Half of his essay was crap.

You may also note that 'of' can be omitted in these sentences.  The following sentence is also correct.

Half the students are absent.

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