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In the thread accompanying the question The holidays are a good time to be with family, Colin Fine writes

The holidays is a good time..., which I don't think is idiomatic even in the US

I'd agree (speaking as a Brit) that this sounds at least rather unnatural.

However, adding padding seems to make this expression sound more acceptable, and examples (which need sorting out from a lot of noise) are not too uncommon on the internet.

During the holidays is [a good time to / the time to / when ... ]

occurs, but one might say that this is a different structure, more analogous to 'The first day of the holidays is ...' or more convincingly 'Early in the holidays is ...'.

These examples (again from the internet) are more prototypical:

... the summer holidays is the perfect time to practice.

The Christmas holidays is the favourite time of the year for many.

and I'm quite happy with these examples.

There are even examples of the 'unpadded' usage:

The holidays is the time to take a breath, meet new people ...

We all know that the holidays is the time where we slack off most.

I'd probably choose to rephrase these.

What is your opinion about the acceptability of these structures?

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    I would always use are for those. – tchrist Oct 5 '14 at 12:57
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    You haven't given any links to written instances of your examples, so here's one: Of course, the summer holidays is often a time when building projects or refurbishments take place. That's from How to Run Your School Successfully (2004), so perhaps we can assume the writers are at least reasonably well-educated, and find the usage "acceptable". – FumbleFingers Oct 5 '14 at 13:06
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    @FF Your quote is disingenuous (88 percent accept 'disingenuous' with the meaning "playfully insincere, faux-naïf," [Wikipedia]) by truncation! (I got slammed for a slight tinker a few weeks ago, so I'll mention it.) It's followed by a comma splice in the original, which might cause some to think that even your substantial degree of hedging 'perhaps we can assume ... reasonably' needs bolstering. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 5 '14 at 14:14
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    @tchrist I expect that this is a case of the usual US - UK preferences manifesting again. I did find one relevant is choice made by a US academic body. Possibly a front for MI6. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 5 '14 at 14:20
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    At first glance I'd say it might depend on the stress/principle-subject of the sentence. For the sentence "The summer holidays is ..." If the stress is on summer, e.g. "The summer [] is...", then it seems acceptable. Personally I'd still use "are", though, as the construction with "is" feels clumsy to me. – MartinSGill Oct 10 '14 at 11:01
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Google Books search results that pair 'the holidays' with a singular verb

Some U.S. English speakers seem to base their decision about whether to follow "the holidays" with a singular verb or a plural one on whether they understand the notion of "the holidays" as a single continuous thing that stretches across a poorly defined number of days or weeks, or as a series of discrete, freestanding days.* Other U.S. English speakers follow the inflexible rule of "if the subject looks plural, it takes a plural verb." Google Books search results show some (but not much) evidence of idiomatic U.S. use of "the holidays [singular verb]." Most of the matches that do appear involve either reproduced conversations or prose that is very informal in other ways.

From Mattie Jordan & Elisa Baldwin, Where the Wild Animals Is Plentiful: Diary of an Alabama Fur Trader's Daughter, 1912–1914 (1999):

Thursday [December] 25 [1913]. Merry Christmas to all. The wind is sure whistling through the pines and is sure chilly. ... This is the happiest Christmas I ever spent. For all is able to be up and ready to laugh and talk. Even the holidays does not keep people from bringing furs to Papa. Joe Asposito Brought two possum hides today. We have got several furs hanging around the walls. I sure hoped that we would not have any furs during Christmas. For I sure wanted A few days away from the furs.

In view of this book's title, it is hardly surprising that "the holidays" is linked to a singular verb. The writer consistently uses singular verbs with plural subjects, so "the holidays does" is not an instance of "the holidays [singular verb]" as an idiomatic special case; on the other hand, it indicates the existence in the early 1900s of a general pattern of colloquial speech that may have helped make "The holidays is" more common in parts of the United States than in the UK.

From Evangeline Michell, The African American Law School Survival Guide (2006):

One of the biggest mistakes African Americans make when looking for a summer job or that one job after they finish law school is they wait too late to apply. If you want a summer job start applying in January. The government usually selects by March. I know you have a lot going on, it is right after the holidays but the holidays is a good time to put your resume together, research places to apply, call people to get the scoop on who is in charge of hiring and to check the website.

From Melissa Leonard, Gift Giving for Mommies: Empowering Women at All Life Stages (2008):

Save the spending for other holidays such as Christmas or Chanukah. During these holidays, we will have to spend more, but it must work within the budget you have set. The holidays is about being with family and friends, not about who gives what and how much that item cost.

From Markku Kopare, Tales from the Eagle's Nest - a View 2 a Prophecy (2011):

"Well U don't understand!! It's not THAT simple! I've got my job 2 worry about and then the Holidays comes and my kids need this and my wife needs that and bl, bla, bla...."

From Mark Spitz, "Playwright's Notes," in Marshmallow World (2012):

I didn't know Aaron but he was incredibly funny as Ray, the man obsessed with the "suicide chord" that (he believes) drove both Kurt Cobain and Brad Delp of Boston to their early ends. The holidays is a time when you want to be surrounded by family, and when someone in one of our shows dies, it's only ever going to feel like losing a relative somehow.

From Joe Alaska, The Road to Dutch Harbor (2013):

Soon after I gave my two week notice to Larry, Dave the lawyer pointed out to me I had agreed in my contract to give a 4 week notice. It was somewhere in the fine print. Fine. Knowing I was soon leaving made dealing with Minnie much easier. I talked with her only when I had to. At the time, I was set to leave Thanksgiving weekend. However, I decided to stay a while longer to handle the ASRC dividends. I ended up staying seven weeks. Besides, the Holidays was not going to be the best time to look for a new job. I did not want to leave Nunamiut in the middle of chaos.


Google Books search result for 'the playoffs was'

A somewhat similar situation arises in connection with the sporting term playoffs, which refers to a series of contests played after the regular season has ended, to determine that year's league or division champion. Like "the holidays," "the playoffs" is generally understood to be a plural entity and to take a plural verb. But in Google Books search results, there are exceptions where speakers or writers attach a singular verb to "the playoffs." Here are two, both involving baseball playoffs.

From Brent P. Kelley, interview with Frank Seward, in The San Francisco Seals, 1946-1957: Interviews with 25 Former Baseballers (2002):

[Seward speaking:] The second year my record during the year was 18 and 13 and then I won two in the playoffs. So it was considered in those days the playoffs was part of your record, which would make it 20 and 13. That's the year that Larry Jansen, he won 30. I guess Cliff Melton, he probably had 15 or 16 ballgames[.]

From Ken Kaiser & David Fisher, Planet of the Umps: A Baseball Life from Behind the Plate (2003):

In 1984 we went on strike during the playoffs. Only a few umpires were assigned to work the playoff games. So, for most of us the playoffs was the perfect time to strike—we were refusing to work when we weren't scheduled to work anyway. But it was embarrassing to baseball to have scabs working what were the most important games of the season.


Conclusions

Instances in which an author has attached a singular verb to "the holidays" are quite rare in the Google Books database of books and periodicals. But from the tenor of the examples that a Google Books search does find, I imagine that the usage in colloquial speech in the United States is considerably more common. Three of the five recent matches for "the holidays [singular verb]" that I've cited in my answer involve one or another form of "the holidays is a time"—which invites speculation that the singular verb is most likely to occur when the speaker or writer thinks of "the holidays" as a single continues entity, like a season.

Even in the United States, however, the usage is unusual and (from most publishers' point of view, I suspect) highly informal. And I didn't find any instances of the usage in UK sources.

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*The sense of "the holidays" evidently differs between North American and UK usage. According to Margery Fee & Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage, (2007):

holiday, vacation, holidays A one-day break from work is a holiday in Canada, the United States, and Britain. Such days may be called 'public', 'civic', 'general', or 'statutory' holidays. When the reference is to a longer break, vacation and holiday(s) are used differently in Britain and North America.

Canadians and Americans use vacation, holiday, or holidays to refer to any extended break from school, work, or regular routine. However, vacation is more often used to refer to the summer break, while the holidays is more often used of the week or so that many people take off between Christmas and New Year's. Similarly, the vacation season usually means summer, while the holiday season usually means the Christmas season.

Fee & McAlpine doesn't define the duration of "the Christmas season," but if its defining features are the appearance of Christmas-themed commercial displays (colored lights, wintry scenes, Christmas trees, etc.) and the playing of Christmas carols at retail outlets, "the Christmas season" seems to start around Halloween (October 31) in many U.S. cities.

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I'll begin by declaring myself as a Brit! From this side of the Atlantic, it seems that 'The holidays' is a particular US construction relating to the winter holiday season, and has become a singular noun. In the UK we go on holiday. We have a summer holiday within the period of the summer holidays, and we might have a winter holiday during the Christmas holidays. When away, we are on holiday. Holiday is singular, holidays is plural.

  • Your 'In the UK we ... have a summer holiday within the period of the summer holidays' [emphasis mine] would seem to license notional agreement for say 'The summer holidays is when most people go abroad'. I'd use 'is' rather than 'are' in this latter example (I'm a Brit), as with 'The Trossachs is my favourite area' (Collins stating that 'Trossachs' may be used with either singular or plural agreement). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 29 '15 at 21:47
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How about "The Christmas holiday is a good time to give presents" I see nothing wrong with the singular form, although in this case it is a noun, which is not what the question asked. People "go away on holiday", they never "go away on holidays", one would never ask someone "where did you go on holidays", it could be "where did you go for your holidays" where "holidays" is generic, but "where did you go for your holiday" is also fine, and relates to a specific holiday trip, rather than a generic "taking of time off", but again, all these are nouns.

To answer the specific question as asked, of course the singular verb form is fine, "I regularly holiday in the south of France", "They holiday together as a family", "she holidays with her mates" &c.

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    This is certainly not what the question asked. And the verb form of holiday is an introduction of your own. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 8 '15 at 20:34
  • The question asks about "holidays is" not "holiday is". – Matt E. Эллен Oct 8 '15 at 14:48
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All your examples save one are ungrammatical. As ultrasawblade points out, subject and verb tense must match. Thus if the subject is plural so must the tense of the verb be.

Your single correct example is

During the holidays is a good time to be with family.

This is correct, because the word "during" constructs a single span of time from the multitude of days. Using the word "during", however, is not the only way to construct a single span of time. Another popular way is to simply remove the '-s'

The summer holiday is a perfect time to practice.

The holiday is the time to take a breath, meet new people ...

If you want to keep the '-s' make the verb tense plural.

  • The whole point of what I'm asking is whether what you so blithely take as read 'the subject [holidays] is plural'. Of course it's plural in form, but is the formal argument always the controlling one? Would you say 'The United States are a country in North America'? Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log states: 'Freeman rightly observes that this transformation from plural to singular mirrors the history of the phrase the United States.... – Edwin Ashworth Aug 29 '15 at 10:40
  • The change from 'the United States are' to 'the United States is' was not at all smooth, and has even served as a linguistic emblem for the nation's own turbulent history: "the Civil War is often credited with (or blamed for) transforming 'the United States' into a singular noun," Freeman writes. There are quite a few other examples where plural-form nouns take singular-form verbs: Confetti is often thrown at weddings. Measles is a serious disease. Data is being collected. The news is not good. And 'The Christmas holidays is the favourite time of the year for many.' is accepted by some. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 29 '15 at 10:42
  • The controlling argument is formed by the semantics. If the semantics dictate a plural subject, the verb should have plural tense. I would not say 'The United States are a country...', I would say 'The United States form a country...' or 'The United States is a country'. And your article agrees. The change in use of The United States is not a grammatical one, but a semantic one: When The US became a country, it became alright to us singular tense to describe it. Your article is about the transition of The US from a set of states to a country, not about how grammar has changed. – Born2Smile Aug 29 '15 at 12:17
  • The controlling argument is formed by usage, which, over time, dictates acceptability. Obviously, some plural-form nouns (data, news, confetti ...) may be regarded as notionally unitary to the degree where singular agreement is standard. This is in line with notional agreement for some coordinate subjects (Health and safety is our primary concern). The question here is about whether 'holidays' is now at the stage where both plural and singular concord are acceptable. As you maintain an 'It's obviously plural, needing plural agreement' stance without any supporting evidence, I'm downvoting. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 29 '15 at 14:07
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The holidays are a good time

The main verb in the sentence is "are" and its subject is "holidays", so they must agree.

During the holidays is a good time to be with family.

The main verb in the sentence is "is", and "during the holidays" is its subject. It's improper English, and the temptation to say things that way is due to sentences like these:

Taking credit for someone else's work is plagiarism

where "taking" is the subject of "is." Taking is a gerund here, so it's correct.

During is NOT a gerund, but it sounds the same, hence the tendency to say that.

  • The subject and the verb must agree. Certainly. But which form of agreement? Nordquist writes: '[Notional agreement] is the agreement (or concord) of verbs with their subjects and of pronouns with their antecedent nouns on the basis of meaning rather than grammatical form. Also known as synesis.' Surely you wouldn't say '$300 are too much to pay' or 'The United States are the third largest country in the world'. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 '14 at 22:22
  • During is not a gerund, and the singular in the sentence given has nothing to do with gerunds at all. A singular verb here is perfectly proper English. During is a preposition, and the subject of the sentence is a prepositional phrase which by definition is singular (or rather: unmarked for number, therefore defaulting to singular). A plural verb here would be utterly ungrammatical, just like “*Under people’s shoes are where most of the world’s chewing gum ends its days”. @Edwin I would quite likely say “The United States are…” about as often as “The United States is…”, I think. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 13 '14 at 22:28
  • @Janus I was careful to add context; I'd certainly use 'the United States are beating Brazil 3 - 0', using the logical concord for the synecdochical usage (United States team). But I'd never use a plural verb form after the literally used compound noun. // 'During' could be used as a gerund in 1913, according to Webster's 1913 edition. But I was not using it as such, of course, merely showing that the presence of a plural (and/or plural-form) noun before a verb may be demanded by its appearing in a noun- or prepositional phrase. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 14 '14 at 9:28
  • @Edwin Sorry, the character limit made me imprecise. I was referring to your specific example: “The United States are the third-largest country in the world” works fine for me. I really don’t know if I’d be more likely to use a singular or a plural in natural speech—probably about 50/50. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 14 '14 at 9:33
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    Humbug all round. The United States form one country called The United States. When referring to the states you should always use the plural tense. When referring to the name of the country you should always use the singular tense. Thus "The United States are the largest country" is wrong. Likewise "The United States is many" is wrong. Where as "The United States is/are beating Brazil" can go both ways, depending on your emphasis. – Born2Smile Aug 29 '15 at 3:26

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