Wednesday, September 19, 2007

S-V Agreement: Some Nouns are Always Singular

Oops, since posting this, I've realized some inaccuracies. Here's the corrected version. Sorry, sorry...

Subject-verb agreement is really one of the trickiest things to learn in the English language. Fortunately or unfortunately, the rules are often bent. One other case of this is when certain plural-sounding nouns are in fact singular.

The best example of this is the noun news. It sounds plural and we know it talks about many things but it is always singular. We say, "Did you watch the news last night? It was very alarming." Or, "The news about Erap seems very good." Other nouns that follow this rule include subjects and sports like statistics, economics, politics, gymnastics, athletics as well as illnesses like measles and mumps.

This sounds simple enough, right? However, you can use the plural for statistics, politics, and economics. Consider:

"These statistics seem incorrect." (You're referring to specific separate figures, hence, the plural.)
"Statistics is a difficult subject." (You're talking about the subject, hence, the singular.)

"GMA's politics take a very pro-American stand." (You're referring to GMA's political views and not politics as a subject.)

"The economics in this country are messy." (You're referring to everything that falls under economics, like population, fluctuating currency, foreign policy, etc.)

Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite writers, says, "Some genetics are in the soul," which refers to some aspects of genetics like behavior and maybe values.

Confusing, huh? The rule for subjects like economics and politics is if you're talking about the subject, use the singular. If you're talking about specifics that fall under that subject, then you can use the plural.

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