Singular or plural: news, measles, number of, pair, half, kilometres, dollars?

Many people, particularly non-native English speakers, have difficulty knowing whether to use a singular or plural verb with some nouns. Here are a few trouble spots.

A few common nouns that end in s are singular in meaning.

The news is good.
Measles is a contagious disease.
The new series is starting now.

A number of takes the plural, but the number of takes the singular.

A number of details are wrong.
The number of details wrong is a concern.

When we use pair for sets of two, we need a singular verb.

This pair of shoes is my favourite.
but
These shoes are my favourite.

Fractions and percentages take a singular verb with a noncount noun, and a plural verb with plural count nouns.

Half of the population is in favour of reform.
Fifty per cent of the voters are in favour of reform.

Titles of books, plays, operas and movies take a singular verb.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a great movie.

Majority is or are? When used to mean a ‘large number of people’, majority can take either a single or plural verb.

The majority believes in the system.
The majority believe in the system.

Plural units of measurement, time and money take singular verbs.

A thousand kilometres is a long way.
Five million dollars is what the business needs.

 
 

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