Singular and plural

Many students have problems with singular and plural nouns. Not only do students need to indicate whether a noun is singular, plural or uncountable, but there are also some special cases, which are explained below.



1. Nouns in the plural form
Some nouns can only be used in the plural. This is because the object consists of 2 parts joined together; e.g. 2 pieces of glass in a pair of glasses, 2 legs in trousers, and 2 items of clothing in pyjamas.
glasses (for eyes, not drinks)  shorts  trousers  pants  scissors  pyjamas
Children under eight are not allowed to use scissors in the classroom,
The trousers are on sale in this store.
The above words can also be used with a pair of …
I need to buy a new pair of tights.

2. Singular nouns with plural verbs
There are certain singular nouns which are usually used with a plural verb and pronoun.

  • family
  • committee
  • union
  • department
  • company
  • audience
  • staff
  • team
  • firm
  • government

We can think of these things as a number of people, rather than one thing so we use a plural verb e.g.
The government (=they) want to apply a capital gains tax.
The committee (=they) are planning to build a new complex.

A singular verb ‘The committee wants to …’  is also possible. In this case, the committee is regarded as a unit or body, rather than thinking of the people who make up the committee.
N.B. With the police, a plural verb is always used
e.g.  The police report that crime rates are down.
The word staff often causes problems.
A common mistakes is:
I spoke to a staff in your shop and he was rude to me. 
I spoke to a member of staff in your shop and he was rude to me. 
It should be noted that there is no -s on staff e.g.   
The staffs are very loyal. 
The staff are very loyal. 

3. Plural nouns with singular verbs
When we talk about a sum of money, a period of time or a measurement, we can use a plural noun with a singular verb.
A million pounds was taken in the bank robbery.  (=it)
Forty years is a long time to be married. (=it)

4. Number expressions used as adjectives
In the following example, we use twenty-dollar as an adjective, so the s is dropped.
A twenty- dollar note (not ‘dollars’)
A fifty-metre swimming pool (not ‘metres’)
Two 50-year-old women  (not ‘years’)

5. Singular nouns which end in -s
Some nouns end in –s, but are not usually plural:
athletics               gymnastics          news     economics          electronics          physics       
The subject I majored in was economics.
The news is always depressing nowadays.
The following words end in –s and can be either singular or plural:

means a means of expression several means of expression
series a series of games two series of games
species a species of tiger different species of tiger
Exercise One Sentence correction
Only six of the following sentences contain a mistake. Underline the mistakes and write the correct version in the box. If the sentence is correct, write "correct" in the box.

Exercise Two Sentence completion
Complete the following sentences using the structure used in note 4.

e.g. This sack of coal weighs ten kilos.
1. The movie star is 90 years old. She’s a 90-year-old movie star.
2. The T.V.series consists of sixteen parts. It’s a sixteen-part series.
3. The holiday lasts 10 days. It’s a 10-day holiday.
4. The hikers walked 15 kilometers that day.  It was a 15- kilometer walk.
5. The skyscraper has 60 floors.  It’s a 60-floor skyscraper.
6. This flask holds two liters.  It’s a two-liter flask.
7. The cousins were 12 years old. They were 12-year-old cousins.
8. The fine was one thousand dollars. It was a one-thousand-dollar fine.

Exercise Three drop-down box
Choose the correct form of the verb, singular or plural, for the following sentences. In some cases, both are possible.
  1. Blue jeans are Check not suitable attire in the workplace.
  2. Two days is Check inadequate if you want a really relaxing holiday.
  3. Can you lend me your scissors? Mine aren't Checksharp enough.
  4. My family is are Check always pleased to see you.
  5. The committee has have Check passed the motion.
  6. Electronics is Check his strongest subject.
  7. Let’s take the bus. Five miles is Check too far for me to walk.
  8. The government is are Check doing everything to save the bank.

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