Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What Does Singular Mean? (Definition and Examples)

What Does Singular Mean? (Definition and Examples)

The word singular denotes a quantity of one. Singular contrasts with plural, which denotes more than one. For example:
  • One shark / three sharks
  • (The word shark is singular, but sharks is plural.)
    (Note: The word shark is a singular noun, but sharks is a plural noun.)
  • She dances. / We dance.
  • (She is a singular pronoun, and dances is a singular verb.)
    (We is a plural pronoun, and dance is a plural verb.)
The terms singular and plural are values of the grammatical category of number.

Most Nouns Have Singular and Plural Forms

Most nouns have singular and plural forms. Nouns with singular and plural forms (e.g., shark/sharks, woman/women) are known as a countable noun.

Countable nouns contrast with a non-countable nouns. Non-countable nouns (e.g., honesty, oxygen) are always singular. They do not have a plural forms.

Below are some countable nouns which are plural in number:

Read more about plural nouns.

Agreement in Number (Singular or Plural)

When studying grammar, you often encounter the term agree in number. In English, lots of constructions must agree in number. For example:

A singular subject must have a singular verb, and a plural subject must have a plural verb.
  • She is leaving.
  • (She is a singular subject, and is leaving is a singular verb.)
  • The mouse has eaten our muffins.
  • (The mouse is a singular subject, and has eaten is a singular verb.)
  • The rats have chewed the cable.
  • (The rats is a plural subject, and have chewed is a plural verb.)
Read more about subject-verb agreement.

A demonstrative adjective (this, that, these, and those) must agree in number with the noun it modifies.
  • This feedback is welcome.
  • (This is a singular adjective, and feedback is a singular noun.)
  • These notes are unhelpful.
  • (These is a plural adjective, and notes is a plural noun.)
Read more about demonstrative adjectives.

A possessive adjective (my, your, his, her, its, our, and their) must agree in number and gender with the noun it represents.
  • Sarah shook her fist.
  • (The possessive adjective her probably refers to Sarah, but it could feasible refer to another female individual.)
  • We took their weapons.
  • (The possessive adjective their refers to an unnamed group of people.)
Read more about possessive adjectives.

Pronouns Can be Singular, Plural...or Both

In English, some pronouns are always singular (e.g., she, it, this), and some are always plural (e.g., they, we, those). Some pronouns can be singular or plural. Here is a list of the most common pronouns showing whether each is singular, plural or both.

Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
Pronoun Type: Personal Pronouns
I/Me-I am happy.
YouYouYou are happy.
You are happy.
He/Him-He is happy.
She/Her-She is happy.
It-It is happy.
-We/UsWe are happy.
-They/ThemThey are happy.
Pronoun Type: Intensive Pronouns and Reflexive Pronouns
Myself-I am looking at myself.
Yourself-You are looking at yourself.
Himself-He is looking at himself.
Herself-She is looking at herself.
Itself-It is looking at itself.
-OurselvesWe are looking at ourselves.
-YourselvesYou are looking at yourselves.
-ThemselvesThey are looking at themselves.
Pronoun Type: Interrogative Pronouns
Who/WhomWho/WhomWho is he?
Who are they?
WhoseWhoseWhose is it?
Whose are they?
WhatWhatWhat is it?
What are they?
WhichWhichWhich is it?
Which are they?
Pronoun Type: Demonstrative Pronouns
That-That is heavy.
This-This is heavy.
-ThoseThose are heavy.
-TheseThese are heavy.
Pronoun Type: Relative Pronouns
Who/WhomWho/WhomThe man who is looking at the car...
The men who are looking at the car...
ThatThatThe dog that is barking...
The dogs that are barking...
WhichWhichThe car which is broken...
The cars which are broken...
Pronoun Type: Indefinite Pronouns
AllAllAll is available.
All are available.
AnyAnyAny is available.
Any are available.
Anyone-Anyone is available.
Anything-Anything is available.
Each-Each is available.
Everybody-Everybody is available.
Everyone-Everyone is available.
Everything-Everything is available.
- FewFew are available.
- ManyMany are available.
Nobody-Nobody is available.
NoneNoneNone is available
None are available.
-SeveralSeveral are available.
SomeSomeSome is available.
Some are available.
Somebody-Somebody is available.
Someone-Someone is available.
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Note

Collective Nouns Can Be Singular or Plural

Nouns that represent groups (called collective nouns) can be treated as singular or plural, depending on the sense of the sentence. For example:
  • The shoal was moving north.
  • (The collective noun shoal is treated as singular because it is considered as one entity.)
  • The shoal were darting in all directions.
  • (Here, shoal is treated as plural because the focus is on the individuals.)
Collective nouns are fairly common. Three very common ones are team, group, and section. Try to keep your collective nouns as singular. However, if the focus is strongly on the individuals, have the confidence to go plural.

Read more about treating collective nouns as singular or plural.