Manners & Misdemeanors

Grammar Review on Confusing Words: Singular, Plural, or Both?

Impeccable grammar starts with the correct use of "is" and "are."
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Correct subject-verb agreement is the foundation of good grammar. It is easy enough to know that the singular noun "magazine" requires the singular verb "is." But what if the subject is tricky and is not in a recognizably plural form? The best way to perfect subject-verb agreement is to know the exceptions. It's fun to think of them as stubborn people who do not conform to easy rules. You just have to be two steps ahead of them: First, know if the dictionary considers them one, many, or a collection. Second, use the right quantifiers.

SINGULAR OR PLURAL?

Furniture, Stuff, Equipment


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Think of furniture as a set of tables, chairs, couches, and cabinets. When one says “a house filled with expensive furniture,” it is understood that there are several items, not just one. To make the word plural is redundant. But because it is a single collection of things, it requires a singular verb after.

This furniture is hard to clean.

But if you want to emphasize the quantity or enumerate the kinds of furniture in a space, attach a countable noun such as “pieces” and “items” after. This gives you the license to use the plural verb “are.” 

The furniture pieces are to die for.

The same rule applies to "stuff" and "equipment." Do away with the "s" because the words refer to a lot of things, but are always in singular form.

Information


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Information is knowledge, which in the academe is referred to as a “body” with “branches.” Most of the time, it is a lot of things rolled in one—stories, quotes, investigative details. If you want to say that information runs far and wide, use nouns with plural forms the way you would use collective nouns—with “of.” To single out something in that body of information, you may say:

This important piece of information is just what I need.

Bread


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Bread can be broken apart and sandwiched together. Like the other words in this list, it is a whole that refuses a plural form. Are you talking about several pieces? Use “slices” or “loaves.” You may also use the container to suggest an assortment: a platter of bread.

Luggage


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Whether used to refer to a number of bags or the contents of a bag, “luggage” requires a singular verb. If you must be specific, use a word that has a plural form such as “items” or “pieces.”

News



Used by itself, news is always in singular form. It assumed that the news is composed of several bits of information, so there is no need to use the plural verb “are.” If you want to be more specific about the quantity, use the phrase “news lineup.” This readily suggests that there are several stories in question.

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CORRECT PLURAL FORMS

Sheep



If there’s more than one sheep, you still call it sheep. These irregular nouns, together with moose, deer, and folk are considered the same in both singular and plural forms, even without an "s" or "es." They have not been altered from their origin.

Deer


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Deer is another example of an irregular noun and remains as "deer" in singular form, so no need to stress over adding that "s."

Appendix/Appendices




There are two popular definitions of appendix and one refers to the appendage in the body while the other is the collection of material, usually at the end of a book. Both plural forms are correct, but depend on the use of the word.

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Crisis/Crises



"Crisis" is rooted in the Greek language, and has no alternative in the English plural form, so it remains "crises," the form derived from its history.

Diagnosis/Diagnoses


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Likewise, "diagnosis" is a noun ending in –is and one of the special cases wherein the –is is changed to –es, just like the word theses, the plural form of thesis.

Food/Foods


Use “food” when referring to a general set. When dishes, meals, and pastries are mentioned in a series, use “other foods” to cover ones you don’t mention. The plural form is used when specific kinds of food are the topic.

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THE RIGHT SINGULAR FORM

Criteria/Criterion



"Criteria" has always been the plural form of "criterion" and you’d be deviating from that old Latin form if you ever used "criterias." There are some cases where "criteria" was used as a singular, tracing back to its first use from half a century ago, but in scholarly or formal writing, always use the word "criterion."

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PERPETUALLY PLURAL

The following words are always in plural form: belongings, congratulations, earnings, clothes, remains, scissors, pants.

Congratulations are in order.

Her belongings are scattered all over the hotel floor.

Mark's earnings amount to more than you'd expect.

Use the plural form of the main verb (no "s") or the linking verb ("are" or "were").

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Hannah Lazatin
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Hannah is originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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