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I often see "What tools is/are everybody using?" and other sentences of same form used with both is and are. Which one is the correct way to write the question?

What tools is everybody using?

What tools are everybody using?

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  • That doesn't really answer my question at all. Obviously "What tools are useful?" is correct but I often see "What tools is/are everybody using?" and other sentences of same form used with both is and are. Do you think I should rephrase the question or is it still not suitable? Aug 20 '14 at 19:26
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    Find the verb: is using, right? Find the subject of is using: everybody, right? Which should it be: Everybody is using them, or Everybody are using them? The answer applies to any questions formed from the sentence. Aug 20 '14 at 19:26
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    You're right, Henry: it would have been a bad test, giving false positives. // John explains the answer and the reasoning behind it. 'What tools are everybody using' is ungrammatical, encouraged no doubt by the plural noun where one might expect to find the subject. However, your comment would have been useful in explaining the motivation for your query. Aug 20 '14 at 19:38
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    'What tools are most people using?' avoids the incongruous flavour of your correct alternative. Aug 20 '14 at 20:07
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    @Sven Yargs I assume you're saying that A and B are 'anti-isoformal' (everybody is; you do), and B is pretty obviously incorrect? Aug 15 '19 at 12:44
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Great question!

Technically, this is really more about whether to say "everybody is" or "everybody are", because the tools aren't doing anything in this sentence. We use "everybody is", so "What tools is everybody using?" would be the more correct choice, technically.

However, that really grates on the ear. Personally, I might just go with "...are..." in a casual setting, and everybody would get the idea. But in a more formal setting, the answer with something like this is to rephrase. The devil is in the details.

Peter Shor's suggestion of "What tools are being used by everyone?" might be interpreted as saying that only those tools that are being used by literally every user would qualify.

Another possibility is "What are the tools that everybody is using?", which also emphasizes "everybody" a little more than your original, but a little less than Peter's (in my opinion).

EDIT: David K has suggested a good alternative: "What set of tools is everyone using?" If you're talking about computing, this could also be "What toolset is everyone using?"

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  • It's not really a "great question". Particularly for ELU, but even on English Language Learners this would be a bit basic. Aug 23 '14 at 0:42
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    @FF I'd say that this is a rather more complex question. "What tools is everybody using?" may be 'grammatical' according to the 'rules', but I'd certainly rephrase. Aug 15 '19 at 12:40
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I can't cite the specific rule, but just sounding it out would lead me to:

"What tool is everyone using?"

and

"What tools are everyone using?"

Use 'is' for a single item, 'are' for plurals. I think 'are' would be appropriate if you were asking just one person, regardless of how many tools. This isn't as clear cut, but for this particular organization, I think this holds true. If you were talking about someone else (he/she), then 'is' seems to be the correct form.

"What movies are you watching?" vs. "What movie are you watching".

"What tool is he using?" vs. "What tools is he using?"

Both forms use are/is, but "What is your favorite movie?" vs. "What are your favorite movies?" follow the previous pattern in your question. Probably because the item being asked about follows the user.

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    This is a case where correct grammar sounds wrong. I find this far too jarring when written, "What tools is everyone using?" But the other way is ungrammatical. If this came up in my writing, I'd rephrase the sentence.
    – David K
    Aug 21 '14 at 17:39

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