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“Is” vs. “Are”—Correct Usage

Updated on May 25, 2023Grammar

​​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.

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.

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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 your intention is to emphasize the individual members of the group.

The couple are keeping secrets from each other.

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.

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 / 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.

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 of, can take is when you’re emphasizing the group as a single entity:

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.

When you’re talking about pairs, you’re usually treating two items as a unit, so it’s common to use is:

A good pair of shoes is a luxury in some parts of the world.

A good pair of shoes are a luxury in some parts of the world.

There is vs. there are

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

There is a cat on the porch.

In the sentence above, cat is the subject, and since it is singular, it requires there is.

There are many opportunities to learn at this company.

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.
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