Four Rules for Singular Nouns Beyond One Person, Place or Thing

What’s a singular noun?

Basically, a singular noun refers to one person, place or thing. In contrast, plural nouns refer to more than one person, place or thing.

For example: 

A cookie – singular

Three cookies - plural

When do you use a singular noun?

Most of the time, singular nouns are simply referring to one.

For example:

Stephanie plays basketball every Sunday. (Singular)

Stephanie and her friends play basketball every Sunday. (Plural)

However, there are situations in which singular nouns refer to a group, or a mass noun, or quantities or amounts. Often, this confuses students as they assume these are plural nouns.

Four rules for singular nouns

Here are four rules to using singular nouns beyond the simple reference to one person, place or thing.

Large numbers are singular when specific and plural when they are general

Large numbers, like hundred, thousand, million may seem to be plural all the time, but they are not.

However, when the number is specific, it’s treated as a singular noun.

For example:

Twenty million

Seven hundred

They are also singular when you use large number with a quantifier.

For example:

A few hundred

Several million

There are times when large numbers are referred to as plural. This is where the confusion lies for students. Large numbers are plural if they are used in general.

For example:

In the millions

Hundreds of years

Mass nouns are singular

Mass nouns, on the other hand, are always singular. (Mass nouns denote something that cannot be counted).

For example:

The sugar is in the bowl in the cupboard. (Correct)

The sugar are in the bowl in the cupboard. (Incorrect)

Collective nouns are singular when referring to one group, but plural when referring to multiple groups

Collective nouns are multiple people, places or things that act as a single group. Again, this confuses students as collective nouns can be both singular and plural.

The hard and fast rule is:

Collective nouns are singular when they refer to one group.

For example:

Mrs. Kelava’s class enjoys science.

Collective nous are plural when they refer to two or more groups.

There are twenty classes attending this year’s the Science Fair.

Quantities or amounts are singular

When we refer to specific amounts or quantities as a whole, they act as a singular.

For example:

Twenty dollars is too much for a gallon of milk.

The first five miles are the hardest on the cross country trail.

This is where it gets confusing again. When the plural noun is referred to as individual units, it’s a plural noun with a plural verb.

There are five kilometers left in the cross-country race.