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Verb agreement with troublesome nouns

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Use a singular verb with a 'pair of' slippers, shoes or trousers.

By Mary Morel | June 2017

Non-native English speakers sometimes have difficulty knowing whether to use a singular or plural verb with some nouns. For instance, it seems odd to use a singular verb with a ‘pair of’ when we’re obviously talking about two things (a pair of shoes). But then sometimes we’re talking about two things that are joined (a pair of trousers). How confusing is that?

Pair of

We use pair of for two items that are used together (pair of gloves) or joined together (pair of glasses).

Use a singular verb with pair of.

This pair of slippers is mine.
These slippers are mine.

News, measles and series

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.

Fractions and percentages

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.

Measurement, time and money

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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