I'm not certain if stuff can be used as a singular in addition to its plural use so I can't establish whether this structure makes sense.

The context is: picking your keys up off the floor shouldn't hurt because of back pain, which would make it feel like an accomplishment once you pull it off.

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  • Your description of "context" is so much more vivid than the sentence in your question. "Simple stuff shouldn't feel like an achievement" is valid but makes me feel nothing. "Picking your keys up off the floor shouldn't feel like an achievement" immediately grabs me and makes me relate it to experiences of having suffered back-pain. Go with that! Let the reader draw parallels to other "simple stuff". (On the actual question, Andrew is correct, stuff wants a singular verb; stuff is not stuff are and so on). – Jon Hanna Nov 26 '13 at 11:23
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    Yes... but something like "I picked my keys up! Simple stuff shouldn't feel like an achievement, but it is. Today is a good day" may be what's required. [Note it is is singular, and relates directly to simple stuff] – Andrew Leach Nov 26 '13 at 11:32
  • @AndrewLeach: surely it does? – TimLymington Nov 26 '13 at 12:53
  • @Tim Possibly. Could be it is an achievement; but yes, probably it does. What I was trying to do was to say that it's not necessary to explicitly say what the achievement is in that sentence (pace Jon). – Andrew Leach Nov 26 '13 at 13:10
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    Grammatically, it's fine. But it's lousy advice. Most people underestimate their achievements. – Pitarou Nov 26 '13 at 13:15

Stuff is a mass [non-count] noun like furniture. Non-count nouns take singular verbs.


While previous answers/comments are correct in that "stuff" takes the singular form of a verb, I think they are missing the point.

The verb in this case is "should" which is the same in plural and singular anyway, so the question of grammaticality here isn't about the verb.

Where the potential singular/plural clash comes in with this sentence is in the fact that you have "stuff" (which the OP is mistaking for a plural), being compared to the singular "an achievement".

So, first off "stuff" isn't plural, so there's no problem.

Second, I'm not sure that there'd be a problem even if "stuff" were plural.

cf "Eight snakes shouldn't feel like an octopus"

In that sentence it looks like maybe it's ok because it's a simile. But then in "Hurricanes are a threat to the infrastructure" you've got a plural BEING a singular.

So yes, it's grammatical. But the "stuff takes a singular verb" point, while true, is not relevant.


If one wants to be completely correct, it's not the actual "stuff" that feels like an achievement, it's "doing stuff" that feels like an achievement.

So the most correct version is something like:

Doing simple stuff shouldn't feel like an achievement.

and the actual subject of the OP's sentence (which only the most grammatically pedantic might object to) is just a shortening of "doing simple stuff".

In fact, you can even use the singular verb in a sentence like the following:

Fried chicken, green beans, and ice cream feels like an achievement.

since the real subject is something like "Cooking and serving fried chicken …" .

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