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I always mixed them up, and use the wrong one on other sites on StackExchange. And the questions is edited by another person.

When should I use "is" and when should I use "are"?

Sometimes I write "Is there any ..." and sometimes I write "Are there any", and I guess that one of them is wrong. Is there any good rule of thumb for this?

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@cindi: My native language is Swedish, and we only have one word for is/are: är translate.google.com/… – Jonas Aug 27 '10 at 18:39
@cindi Not all verb conjugations in other languages are necessarily unique depending on plurality of subject… – ghoppe Feb 2 '11 at 22:30
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Sometimes I write "Is there any ..." and sometimes I write "Are there any", and I guess that one of them is wrong. Is there any good rule of thumb for this?

Yes, the rule of thumb is "use 'is' for singular and 'are' for plural".


Is there any caffeine in decaffeinated coffee?


Are there any words that rhyme with orange?

Note that the reason why the first sentence is in the singular form is that caffeine is a non-countable noun. You wouldn't ask "how many caffeines are there...?", but "how much caffeine is there...?"

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It's more than a rule of thumb, it's a law. :) – Noldorin Aug 27 '10 at 15:27
@Noldorin - Its not a law, languages don't have laws, only rules of thumb to help you know how will sound the best to other speakers of the language. What is correct in any given language is determined by what the speakers consider acceptable, not by what the book says. ....that is my opinion anyway! – Icode4food Aug 27 '10 at 18:03
@jbCode: Well it's a law in that either "is" or "are" is correct in a certain context, never both. There is always a definite correct usage, even if it's obscure. – Noldorin Aug 27 '10 at 22:47

A common cause of confusion - even for native speakers of English - arises when using a collective noun in phrases such as "a group of people" or "a team of engineers".

In such cases, the verb should agree with the collective noun. "A group" is singular even though it contains many people.

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But, just to show that language isn't always the cut-and-dried matter that many wish it were, it is well established in British usage that a collective noun (like 'team' or 'government', or even 'bank') can be construed with either a singular or a plural verb, depending on whether the collective is being considered as a unit or as a collection of individuals. US pundits insist on the singular, though. – Colin Fine Oct 5 '10 at 16:55
Ben Voigt has pointed out elsewhere that I have written something inconsistent with my comment above, and I agree: in the comment above, strike "as a collection of individual" and replace it with "as a mass entity". There is not necessarily any focus on the individuals. – Colin Fine Jun 15 '11 at 16:16

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