When 'rest' means what is left after everything or everyone has gone, been used, dealt with, or mentioned, is it singular or plural?

My guess is, this depends. When 'rest' refers to countable things and the number is more than one, it is plural; otherwise it is singular.

For example, suppose there are five boxes. You carry two; then there are three left. We can say 'the rest ARE three.' suppose there is one bottle of salt. You sprinkle some; then there is less salt. We can say 'the rest IS less than one bottle.' Is my description correct?

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    Although we might be able to say ?"The rest are three", we rarely do. We usually say "I'll take these two. You take the {rest / other three}". What one can say and what one actually says in everyday English is often different, just as it is in everyday Chinese and all other languages. The important question is How do people actually say this? Duplicate question
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 8:08
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    Your choice of examples could be the source of confusion. "One of the balls is white, the rest ?? black." Any questions about what goes at "??" -- "Only half of the cloth can be used. The rest ?? waste." Any questions about what goes at "??"
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


You are right. Both singular and plural agreement are found. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 469 records for the rest are and 88 for the rest is. The figures in the British National Corpus are 92 and 153. The Oxford English Dictionary has 137 citations for the rest are, and 97 for the rest is. There are even cases where the singular is used where others might prefer the plural. A citation from 1990 is ‘There are competent performances from David Garrison and Becky Ann Baker as his best friends, but the rest of the cast is amateur night’, but it is possible to regard cast as plural, and, at least in the UK, it might appear as the rest of the cast are. (Amateur night here simply means ‘amateurish’.)

As for your examples, the rest are three and the rest is less than one bottle are unlikely to occur. In those circumstances a native speaker would say There are three left and There is less than a full bottle left. However, in the case of the boxes, we might say The rest are OK, and in the case of the bottles we might say The rest is not enough to fill even a single bottle.

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    I cannot agree more. Barrie or RegDwight confirms my guess and provides more comments on my example. I coined that example and I think native speaker will say in other ways. These dictionaries can probably explain this in an explicit way. For example, Longman dictionary defines team as 'also pl verb BrE'. Unfortunately we do not see many dictionaries offer explanation of rest's number. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 2:06

The examples used here all seem to compare nouns which can easily determine whether they are mass or count nouns. I would think that in the case of the boxes, since a box is a count noun, one would say the rest "are." In the case of the salt, since salt is a mass noun, one would make it singular and say the the rest "is."


For me, you dissect the subject - is the subject he/she/it (singular)? I would use is.

For example, The Daily Mail publishes a story & whilst the rest of the story IS nonsense, a minority of the story is true.

I have a packet of five pens but three of them don’t work - two work but the rest (of “them”) ARE faulty.

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    Your example sentence does not work as you have not mentioned any part of the story before referring to the rest. In addition the word “minority” is unnatural in this context, even if you had indicated something that constituted the major part.
    – David
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 15:44

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