When is 'politics' singular and when is it 'plural'?

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A learned new Facebook friend, having perused the left-leaning postings on my wall, posted the following message there: Well, I see our politics is going to differ, but at least I know you'll have a grammatically correct argument!

 

In order to be friendly and welcoming to my new Facebook friend, I was merely playful in my disagreement about his choice of subject-verb agreement.  I told him we should fight it out here some day.  That day has come.  So, fellow grammarians, do you agree with me that, in this context, it should definitely be ...our politics are going to differ? If not, why not?  I want personalized responses, of course, but I also want bibliographic evidence as well.

asked Feb 01 '13 at 16:00 Shawn Mooney Expert

You're right about the modifier rule. After I wrote this, I thought about the fact that 'American Politics' is referring to an academic topic. You have to take it on a case by case basis.

Lewis NeidhardtFeb 01 '13 at 17:54

Once an answer receives a vote, it's moved from the unanswered stack to the recent stack. When that happens, it pretty is lost to posterity. If you want more discussion, don't vote.

Lewis NeidhardtFeb 02 '13 at 01:01

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3 answers


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I vote for "are" because the sentence is talking about his politics and your politics combined.

 

You aren't going to get me to cite references for my opinion, though, Shawn.  I'm sticking to the "because I said so" rule.

link answered Feb 01 '13 at 21:09 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

That rule alone is worth an up vote.

Lewis NeidhardtFeb 02 '13 at 00:55

Patty, those who agree with me needn't cite any sources :)

Shawn MooneyFeb 02 '13 at 01:32

:-) I've been a mom for 23 years. "Because I said so" is the best rule ever.

Patty TFeb 02 '13 at 03:11

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Here's a good answer I found out there in cyber space.


By itself, when referring to the academic topic of politics, politics is singular, but when referring to political affairs or opinions it is plural: office politics, Iranian politics, her politics, etc.

 

Using this as the rule (the jury isn't in yet), it seems that a modifier before the word would make it plural. I suppose the same would hold true for economics, mathematics, and similar nouns that end in 's'.

 

Politics is a profession I would not like.

American politics is a nasty business.  Exception to the above rule?

American politics are going to get worse.

Our politics are going to differ. This would naturally be plural because you are talking about two sets of thought. If it were singular, then you would have something differing from itself.

link edited Feb 01 '13 at 16:36 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

I almost completely agree with you, Lewis, especially because you agree with ME about 'Ourpolitics are going to differ'. But it is not a simple case of a modifier plus politics being plural; you squirmed a bit in saying 'American politics' was an exception to the rule; in fact, 'Americanpolitics' is an academic subject, so if you jettison the unhelpful modifier-plus-politics rule, and stick to your academic-topic-is-singular vs. political-affairs/opinions-are-plural rule, I completely agree with you.

Shawn MooneyFeb 01 '13 at 17:05

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I agree with Lewis and Patty, and so I continue to disagree with my 'learned friend' (who shall remain nameless, and who so far has not added his or her two cents' worth to this discussion).  But I do puzzle over this sentence, which I read a few days ago in the Washington Post:

 

Politics never came as easily to Hillary as they did to her husband or to the younger man who defeated her in 2008.

 

Here, politics is not an academic subject, nor a set of beliefs (which were different between my learned friend and I, but aren't between Hillary and Bill Clinton) but rather to the "practice or art of conducting political affairs".  It would basically equate to a gerund phrase (much less commonly-used) like doing politics or being a politician.  I think that in this context, politics should be considered a singular noun, not plural; it should be ...as it did to her husband...  Any thoughts?

link comment answered Feb 03 '13 at 12:50 Shawn Mooney Expert

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