Which one of these is correct, and if both are correct in certain contexts, which is preferred?

  • What I'm looking for is methods that help...
  • What I'm looking for are the methods that help...

I know this may seem a duplicate of previous questions like Is it “5–6 weeks are a lot of time” or “5–6 weeks is a lot of time”?, but I think this is — not being about collective/mass nouns(?) — a somewhat different question.

(No, I'm not a native speaker of English.)

  • Using "is" is fine, commonplace English. Using "are the" is fine as well, so long as you know there are only a fixed, finite, number of methods, and you want all of them. – Dan Bron Aug 25 '14 at 11:18
  • possible duplicate of S-V agreement: It is not clear what is/are meant by A and B (see especially user21497's answer) – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '14 at 11:24
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks. So, is the first version (what...is) correct, because of the subject being "what" instead of "methods"? The Q&A you've linked seems to says so. – OpaCitiZen Aug 25 '14 at 11:38
  • Both 'is' and 'are' may be used 'correctly' here; 'is' is the more common choice. Cerberus offers a possible reason for why the apparently illogical choice is favoured. With 'It's the Waltons', the 'it's' construction has become a fixed expression taking both plural and singular noun phrases. The same seems to have happened with 'What I want / need / like ... is ...', though here 'are' is also available. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '14 at 14:28

"are" is correct since "methods" is plural. I can't envision a context in which "is methods" is correct, however "is a list of methods" is OK, because the list is singular.

  • Accepted usage is usually more complex than adherence to basic simple rules. For instance, 'It's us' is considered acceptable by most people, and better than 'It are us / It are we' by almost everyone. The linked previous question has answers going into reasonable depth. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '14 at 11:31
  • Thanks, Edwin. I agree. I just didn't believe this case shared the complexity. – Mark Kasson Aug 25 '14 at 11:37
  • 3
    Oh, it does. It's a Wh-Cleft (aka Pseudo-Cleft) sentence; the plural is optional and gets used only when emphasizing plurality. The normal verb inserted by the Pseudo-Cleft rule is is (or was). – John Lawler Aug 25 '14 at 14:09

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