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His whereabouts is unknown

vs

His whereabouts are unknown

Which is correct, or is this simply a matter of preference?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Wiktionary marks whereabouts as plurale tantum. Merriam-Webster says that it's a "noun plural but singular or plural in construction". The Collins English Dictionary says that it is "functioning as singular or plural", and the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says that it is "used with a singular or plural verb". The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 23 cites for "whereabouts are unknown", but only 3 cites for "whereabouts is unknown". Finally, Google returns 1.1M results for "whereabouts are unknown" vs 191k results for "whereabouts is unknown". So, neither of the forms is unheard of, but "whereabouts are unknown" is preferred by a rather significant margin.

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1  
For some reason, the "s" on the end of the word always makes me read it as plural and so I lean towards the use of "are" rather than "is". I have heard the use of "is" in this context before, and can understand it when taking the word "whereabouts" to mean "current location", however it just does not feel correct to me. –  Will Dec 1 '10 at 14:52
    
RegDwight's references above spell it right out: either way is acceptable. Phrases "...her whereabouts is unknown..." and "...her whereabouts are unknown..." are equally correct. –  user6348 Mar 21 '11 at 10:47
    
If you're trying to sound native I'd always treat whereabouts as a plural. "His whereabouts is unknown" sounds weird. –  Quibblesome Mar 21 '11 at 22:54

The Associated Press 2011 Stylebook records "whereabouts" to take a singular verb.

"His whereabouts is a mystery."

While I believe it to sound and appear incorrect, the AP is the horse's mouth.

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Surely whereabouts means 'Where he is or which place he is in' and therefore the singular is correct i.e. His whereabouts is unknown. We wouldn't say 'Where he is are unknown'. He can only be in one place.

Collins dictionary states that whereabouts (noun) functions as singular and means the approximate place where a person or thing is.

Just because a lot of people say 'whereabouts are' doesn't mean it is correct! They look at the 's' and assume it is plural.

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It is interesting to note that Collins online states that the word whereabouts is plural ("pl n") and gives the following example: "the whereabouts of the president are unknown" (collinslanguage.com/results.aspx?text=whereabouts) –  NPE Aug 26 '11 at 12:28

Since @RegDwight has already provided an answer with strict supporting background information, let me answer this question from a conversational perspective.

I would think of a person's whereabouts as places where he has been. Note my emphasis on places. That's plural. So,

His whereabouts are unknown.

The context here would be that we do not know the places he has been going to.

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1  
The plural does not have that implication for me. –  Colin Fine Dec 1 '10 at 12:30
2  
"I am going to Tubbercurry." "Whereabouts is that?" –  Remou Dec 1 '10 at 14:00
1  
@Remou : I don't believe that's a good example for "whereabouts", but rather a poorly formed question ... using it more in a slang context. "About where is that?" would be a more proper way to write it. The word "whereabouts" that is being discussed is a noun. –  Will Dec 1 '10 at 14:48
    
@Will I disagree and cite wsu.edu/~brians/errors/whereabouts.html, for one, I can add more. –  Remou Dec 1 '10 at 15:07
    
@Remou : Your link, I believe, answers the original question. My point in my comment was that "Whereabouts is 'x'?" is not the same as "X's whereabouts is/are unknown". In question form, as you used it, I believe it is more of a slang manner of asking "Where is 'x'?" or "Approximately where is 'x'?" –  Will Dec 1 '10 at 18:15

protected by Jasper Loy Apr 13 '12 at 7:23

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