When deciding whether to use the verb is or the verb are, look at whether the subject noun in the sentence is plural or singular. If the noun is singular, use is. If it is plural or there is more than one noun, use are.
This is the most basic is vs. are grammar rule.
Is vs. are with collective nouns
A collective noun refers to a group of people or things that is treated as a single entity in speech. Committee is a collective noun. A committee is made up of multiple people, but the word itself is singular in form. In American English, collective nouns take is. In British English, collective nouns can take is or are.
But even in American English, a collective noun can take are when your intention is to emphasize the individual members of the group.
Is vs. are with mass nouns
Mass nouns (also called noncount nouns) are similar to collective nouns. They refer to things that can’t really be counted. Sand and water are mass nouns. Mass nouns take is in both American and British English.
Is vs. are with a number of / a group of / a pair of
Collecting phrases, like a number of or a pair of, can make it hard to choose between is and are. Which verb do you use when you’re talking about a number of people? On the one hand, number is singular, which calls for is. But people is plural, which calls for are. Typically, it’s best to use are with a number of; essentially, the phrase is an idiom that means the same thing as several, and there is no question that several people would take the plural verb are. You may occasionally run into a pedant who disagrees, but actual usage is on your side.
Other collecting phrases, like group of, can take is when you’re emphasizing the group as a single entity:
But they can also take are, when you’re emphasizing the individuals:
When you’re talking about pairs, you’re usually treating two items as a unit, so it’s common to use is:
There is vs. there are
When choosing between there is and there are, you have to look at what comes after the phrase:.
In the sentence above, cat is the subject, and since it is singular, it requires there is.
In the sentence above, opportunities is the subject, and since it is plural, it requires there are. (Don’t let the word many throw you off—concentrate on the noun.)
- Use is with singular subjects and are with plural subjects.
- Collective nouns usually take is, but you use are when you want to emphasize the individual components of a group.
- Phrases like a number of . . . usually take a plural verb.