Is vs. Are

  • Use is with singular subjects and are with plural subjects.
  • Collective nouns usually take is, but you can use are if you need to emphasize the individuals who belong to the group.
  • Phrases like a number of… usually take a plural verb.

When deciding whether to use is or are, look at whether the noun is plural or singular. If the noun is singular, use is. If it is plural or there is more than one noun, use are.

The cat is eating all of his food.
The cats are eating all of their food.
The cat and the dog are eating as fast as they can.

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.

The committee is considering the budget right now.
The audience is getting antsy.
The couple is moving to California.

But even in American English, a collective noun can take are when you need to emphasize the individual members of the group.

The couple are keeping secrets from each other.

I am. She is. We are.

Is vs. Are with Collective 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.

The sand is too hot to walk on!
Water is our most precious resource.
Pudding is very easy to make.

Is vs. Are with a Number of

Collecting phrases like a number 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 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. You may occasionally run into a pedant who disagrees, but actual usage is on your side.

A number of people are concerned about the lack of progress.
A number of people is concerned about the lack of progress.

Other collecting phrases like group ofcan take is when you’re emphasizing the group:

That group of protesters is sure to be distracting.
This series of books is phenomenal.

But they can also take are, when you’re emphasizing the individuals.

A bunch of my friends are going to different schools next fall.
A handful of new books are published each week.

There Is vs. There Are

When choosing between there is and there are, you have to look at what comes after it.

There is a cat on the porch.

In the sentence above, cat is singular, so it requires there is.

There are many opportunities to learn at this company.

In the sentence above, opportunities is plural, so it requires there are. (Don’t let the word many throw you off—concentrate on the noun.)

There Is a Number of vs. There Are a Number of

There are a number of unnamed stars in our galaxy? There is a number of unnamed stars in our galaxy? It’s difficult to tease out whether you should use is or are in a construction like this. The verb is being pulled toward there, number, and stars all at once.

Sentences that begin with There is/are a number of… are almost always wordier than they need to be. Your best bet is to rewrite it:

Many stars in our galaxy are unnamed.

But if you really can’t rewrite it, then use the same principle outlined above. Is if you want to emphasize the group, are if you want to emphasize the individual members.

Weekly Grammar Tips
Weekly Grammar Tips
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