"Is there any proof" versus "are there any proofs"

The stack exchange question "Is there any concrete-solid proofs of this space odyssey?" made me want to edit it to remove the s in proofs (someone with enough flair did), however it made me wonder about the plurality of any and proofs.

Is there any concrete-solid proof of this space odyssey?
Are there any concrete-solid proofs of this space odyssey?

If the asker wants to hear about at least one proof, the first one is OK, but what is correct if he wants at least two pieces of evidence?

If you begin the sentence with the singular copula (is) you are expected to make the object agree in number. Breaking down the SO sentence to its essentials, we have:

Is there any proofs?

This is grammatically incorrect. We can make these agree in number in two ways (as your own examples do):

Is there any proof?

Are there any proofs?

Either is correct. "Proof" or "proofs" doesn't matter as long as the number agrees with the number of the copula.

"Proof" is usually treated as a mass noun, and so has no plural:

"I have proof that ... "

"There is no proof that ... "

"You haven't any proof that ... "

It can be used as a count noun, but usually only in special senses, such as a formal (mathematical or logical) proof:

"His book contains several new proofs of these theorems".

I would find it strange to read "They produced several proofs of his innocence".

• Exactly my thoughts too Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 12:08
• Agreed; galley proofs are almost always plural, mathematical proofs can either be plural or singular, but in the vernacular sense (Is there any proof of X?) it's almost always singular. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 17:48
• "Several proofs of his innocence" is an entirely possible phrase. It would imply that, for example, he had a solid alibi and the law did not forbid what he was supposed to have done. That is certainly a strange way to think (if you're not a lawyer), but I don't think it's ungrammatical. Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 15:18
• Yes. The 'way to say it' would be "They produced several pieces of evidence of his innocence." Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 20:12

My grammar book (English Grammar, David Daniels and Barbara Daniels) reports that the indefinite pronoun any is either singular or plural.

Someone asked him for a match, but Joe didn't have any.
Do you have any tips to pass on?
I don't have any choice.

In your example, I would use "Is there any concrete-solid proof of this space odyssey?" because if there isn't a single proof, then there aren't two proofs either.

You're more likely to encounter the plural in formal logic, maths, etc., where a given proposition may have multiple proofs. In other contexts it's more common to lump all the supporting evidence together as (singular) proof.

'Is there any proof?' sounds better, but proofs is OK because you can say 'evidences'

'Present your evidences to the court.'

• I suspect evidences is legalese for "items to be shown as evidence". I personally wouldn't accept it for "multiple logical justifications". Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 17:44
• I don't believe that "evidences" can be plural in this sense, but "justifications" certainly can. However, the fact that "justifications" can be plural is not evidence that "proofs" can be plural, because English is not logical in these matters. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 17:50

The confusion here arises from the fact that proof has several different meanings.

To give a few:

the cogency of evidence that compels acceptance by the mind of a truth or a fact

This is the usage that the OP was thinking needed edited out. In this circumstance "proof" is a mass noun and so should not be pluralized.

the process or an instance of establishing the validity of a statement especially by derivation from other statements in accordance with principles of reasoning

This meaning is use, for example, with respect to mathematical proofs, such as the many proofs of the Pythagorean theorem. This is not a mass noun an so CAN be pluralized.

One of the commenters also mentioned another usage:

a copy (as of typeset text) made for examination or correction

So, an initial impression of a book for confirmation by the editors and author. Again this is not a mass noun and so would not be pluralized: "galley proofs".

So in the case in the OP, for sure the word should be singular.

There are some circumstances when a noun, which is normally mass, can be plural, when the context separates it into parts. "Those little green men over there, and that flying saucer overhead are each proofs of the existence of extra terrestrial life." In this sentence were we to omit the word "each" we would have to go back to the mass, non plural version of "proof". However, because we split it up into separate parts (so that it is no longer an indistinguishable "mass") we do need a plural if more than one.

Had the OP's question been "Are there many concrete-solid proofs of this space odyssey?", then the plural would be correct.

Proof is an uncountable noun. Despite this it would seem it is a common mistake (paticularly in American English) to use "proofs".

"If the asker wants to hear about at least one proof, the first one is OK, but what is correct if he wants at least two pieces of evidence?"

Proof is both singular and plural, which means whether you want one, two or ten pieces of evidence it's always proof NEVER proofs.

Unfortunately, when people (including academics) make mistakes often enough they become acceptable, so you'll find a lot of examples where proofs is used.

"5 proofs that aliens exist" should read "Proof that aliens exist". If you wanted to use a number it would become "5 ... that prove aliens exist" - truths/facts/examples.

Hope this clears it up.

• Hi @PStevenson, and welcome to the site! Do you have any sources for your answer? Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 21:07
• > it would seem it is a common mistake (paticularly in American English) to use "proofs" Literally never heard someone in America say "proofs" in the colloquial sense, so not sure what you're on about. Maybe in article titles as you've pointed out (still never seen that), but I'm not sure how you can prove they're native speakers let alone Americans. But as others have pointed out, proofs can still be used in the context of math proofs Commented Apr 25, 2019 at 20:43
• This is just wrong, even if you believe that "proof" is a mass noun in this context. "Five pieces of evidence that aliens exist" is much better than "five examples than aliens exist", "five truths that aliens exist'", or "five facts that aliens exist," all of which are even less correct than "five proofs". Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 16:11