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“The contents are” or “the contents is”

Which is correct?

  • The contents of the cereal box is distributed among the children.
  • The contents of the cereal box are distributed among the children.

"The contents ... are" definitely sounds better, but isn't the word contents in this sense singular? Maybe "the contents ... is" is correct, despite the fact that it totally doesn't sound like it is.

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marked as duplicate by Kris, jwpat7, Mitch, Matt E. Эллен, waiwai933 May 4 '12 at 23:16

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

contents is the plural of content. – Kris May 3 '12 at 14:01
The sentence is correct. – Kris May 3 '12 at 14:02
It should be "The contents are ...". – Kris May 3 '12 at 14:07
I'd use are, but can't you just say, "The cereal is distributed..." instead? – JLG May 3 '12 at 14:07
@Kris, in a cereal box? – JLG May 3 '12 at 14:19

Your confusion is understandable as your construction, "The contents", raises a semantic question:

Does a cereal box have "content" (the cereal), or "contents" (the grains of cereal)? I don't think that either of these is definitively right or wrong, but it changes how you write your sentence:

If the cereal box has "contents" (grains of cereal), then:

The contents of the cereal box are distributed among the children.

If the cereal box has "content" (cereal), then:

The content of the cereal box is distributed among the children.

In my opinion the second phrasing makes more sense, but that's just an opinion.

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Why do you say that 'the' sounds like the possibility of a singular noun? – Barrie England May 3 '12 at 14:30
I guess all I mean is, it seems to me that people frequently second guess themselves when they write something like the (plural noun) are, and it seems the article is making them second guess whether they should say the (plural noun) is, instead of the (plural noun) are as the asker indicated. – Andrew May 3 '12 at 18:26
I've re-written the answer to be more clear. – Andrew May 3 '12 at 18:32

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