When to Use Is and Are: Solving the Singular vs. Plural Puzzle

One lame way to determine whether to use is or are is if the sentence sounds correct.

But, there are times when it is not that easy to hear and both seem correct.

Those are the times when you need this article more than oxygen. We advise you to read as many times as possible till you grasp the full gist.

When to use is and are

Use is or are in the following ways;

Is or are with collective nouns

In American English, collective nouns take is and in British English, it can take either is or are.

A collective noun is a group of people or things treated as a single item. Committee is a collective noun because it is made up of many people but is in the singular form.

Example; The committee is in a meeting

The audience is excited.

The couple is expecting a baby.

A collective noun can take are when you intend to point out the individuals who make up the group.

Example; The couple are keeping malice.

You may want to check out When to Use an Apostrophe: A Beginner’s Guide to Showing Possession and Omitting Letters

Mass nouns with is and/or are

Non-count nouns or mass nouns talk about uncountable things like sand, and water. It is like collective nouns.

In both British and American English, it takes is.

Example: The sand is too hot to lay on.

Either/or and Neither /nor

Depending on the use, either and neither are pronouns and adjectives.

Either or neither takes the form of an adjective if it is placed in front of a singular noun is. Even in the case of either/or and neither/nor subjects, they are singular nouns.

For example; Either car is a good choice.

Read also: When To Use A Semicolon vs Colon: Breaking Down Semicolons vs. Colons In Everyday Writing

Is or are and Collecting Phrases

A number of or a pair of are examples of collecting phrases that require is and are.

What verb do you use to talk about more than one person?

Number is singular while people is plural.

 Most of the time, it’s better to use are with a number of.

The phrase is basically an idiom for several, and it’s clear that several people will use the plural word are.

Example: A number of people are in need of your services (correct)

A number of people is in need of your services (incorrect)

Another collecting phrase like group of will take is if it is showing the group as a single entity.

For example; The group of protesters is sure to be distracting

This series of films is interesting.

It can also take are if it emphasizes the individuals in the group.

For example; a handful of new books are published each week.

If it is pairs, you’re taking two different units as one, so you use is.


A pair of shoes is luxury to the feet (correct)

A pair of shoes are a luxury to the feet (incorrect)

There is and There are

What comes after the phrase will determine if the right word is there is or there are.

For example;

There are many schools to learn from.

From the sentence, schools is the subject and it is plural, so, it requires there are.

Don’t let the word many confuse you, concentrate on the noun which is schools.


If the subject is singular, use is, if it is plural, use are.

Use is with collective nouns but when the emphasis is on the individuals in the group, use are.

Phrases like a number of take a plural verb.

READ ALSO: Why Reading is Important for Freelance Writers

Tips to help use ‘Is’ and ‘Are’ Correctly

Is the noun singular or plural? If it is singular, use ‘is,’ while if it is plural, use ‘are’.

Take cognizance of the form: For first person plural subject uses ‘are.’

Second-person singular and plural subjects use ‘are.’

Third-person singular subjects use ‘is’ and plural subjects use ‘are.’


We are hopeful that the information above has helped to clarify any confusion you have about is and are. You should be able to construct better sentences after reading this.


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