In our last article, we talked about the basics of subjects, verbs, and how they must agree.

We will now proceed to address some tricky subjects, namely singular nouns that look like plural ones. To be more specific, we’ll talk about mass and collective nouns.

Here is an example of a singular noun that looks as though it should be a plural noun: band.

Widely held as the most popular K-pop band in the world, Super Junior has a total of 13 members ... but band is still a singular noun.

Widely held as the most popular K-pop band in the world, Super Junior has a total of 13 members ... but band is still a singular noun.

Therefore, the following is true:

  • The band are taking a break from touring to focus on recording new songs. (Wrong: “band” is singular, so it should be “is.”)
  • The band is taking a break from touring to focus on recording new songs. (Correct.)

WHEN SOMETHING THAT SEEMS PLURAL ACTUALLY ISN’T

There are other collective nouns that are similarly tricky:

  • The team are going to win the championship. (Wrong: “team” is singular, so it should be “is.”)
  • The team is going to win the championship. (Correct.)
  • The government are meeting to vote on an important bill. (Wrong: “government” is singular, so it should be “is.”)
  • The government is meeting to vote on an important bill. (Correct.)

Things get really confusing when we have collective nouns followed by “of” and plural nouns:

  • The class of literature students are reading The Great Gatsby. (Wrong: “class” is singular, so it should be “is.”)
  • The class of literature students is reading The Great Gatsby. (Correct.) 

In the above example, even though the subject seems to be “literature students,” it’s actually “the class.”

Here’s another example:

  • The group of wanderers are striking a pose. (Wrong: “group” is singular, so it should be “is.”)
  • The group of wanderers is striking a pose. (Correct.)

There is an easy trick to figure out what the subject is in sentences such as above:

  • The group of wanderers are striking a pose.

Cross out “of” and the noun that follows. So, we would have the following: The group are striking a pose. We can see now that it’s wrong. Because “the group” is singular, it requires “is.” (Easy, right?)

Let’s try another one:

  • A box of chocolates were on the floor.

Using the trick, we would have “A box were on the floor.” Again, it’s wrong. Since “a box” is singular, it should be “was.”

Here’s one more:

  • Many groups of children is visiting the museum.

We can tell that it’s going to be wrong, because “groups” is plural but “is” is singular. Therefore, it should be “are.”


PRONOUNS

Some of you might be thinking, “So what about words like everyone and everybody? Are they singular or plural?”

The TL;DR answer is simple:

Everyone.png

In other words, all the indefinite pronouns are singular

Let’s see this concept in action:

The answer is now clear: (C).

Because “everybody” is singular, (C) should say “is participating.” The subject isn’t “departments” or “universities” because neither of them is “participating in this year’s production.” Instead, the subject is “(virtually) everybody.”


We’re almost done. Before concluding this post, let’s look at the following chart of indefinite pronouns. (The person who made this forgot to include “every” in the singular column.)

  • Each of the 101 dalmatians has black spots.
  • Every student is required to complete the exam within 30 minutes.
  • Both Henry and Nan love to try new restaurants.
  • Few topics upset Henry and Peter as much as racism and discrimination.

If this is still a bit confusing, don’t worry. We have one more article coming up on this topic.