Is or are? A simple explanation

I keep an eye on language, the way it’s used and the way it changes. Not so long ago I wrote about the trend for saying ‘speaks to’, which originated in the US then took off like wildfire around the globe: “the high interest rates we’re seeing speak to wider economic problems”, that sort of thing.

The latest change is a sudden inability to decide whether to use is or are. It has infected every aspect of communications in record time, from TV to written online content and everything in between.

While it’s exciting to see language changing and morphing like the living thing it is, some things just sound and feel wrong. So let’s clarify. When do you use ‘is’, and when is it ‘are’? It’s actually really simple:

  • If the thing you’re talking about is singular, it’s ‘is’
  • If the thing you’re talking about is plural, it’s ‘are’

Is or are? Here are some examples.

  • You wouldn’t say “here is some examples“, you’d say “Here are some examples” – multiple examples being the subject you’re talking about
  • You wouldn’t say “the copywriter I’ve hired are going to write some blog posts for me”. You’d say “is”, because a copywriter is a single thing. If you’ve hired a team of copywriters you’d say “My team of copywriters is” – because a team is also a single thing. But you’d say “My copywriters are” because they’re several things, not a single thing
  • “The government are” is wrong, “the government is” is correct – because the government is a single entity
  • “Members of the government are” is correct – you wouldn’t say “members of the government is”

Get it?

You can rely on me to get it right on your behalf 😉

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