I am being told that "sports" is a singular noun. This is creating a problem for me (as a teacher) because it sounds 'odd' even if it is correct (i.e. one of the exceptions to the rule).

e.g. Sports has (rather than sports have)...

I always thought sports referred to more than one team activity (e.g. football, rugby, golf, bowls etc.); hence, it was plural.

For example,

  • I like playing sports.
  • Sports have always been of interest to me.


  1. Is sports a collective noun?
  2. Which usage is correct?
  • 5
    "Sports" is generally treated as a plural noun. The confusion may be that in the US we use "sports" in many cases where UK people would say "sport".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 22, 2015 at 0:26
  • 1
    Agreed. The answer to this questions seems to be tied to regional differences in usage.
    – bcc32
    Apr 22, 2015 at 3:31
  • Is there an acceptable standard? May 5, 2015 at 10:39
  • @JaveerBaker There are several. But most basically, sports can both be a mass/uncountable noun (referring to the notion of [playing] sport[s] generally) and a plural, countable noun (referring to several distinct types of sport as being distinct). When it’s used as a non-count noun, it takes a singular verb; then it’s used as a count noun, it takes a plural verb. Compare with physics and math(s), which are also usually non-count nouns, unless you’re talking about distinct types of mathematics (which I suppose is at least theoretically possible). May 5, 2015 at 12:00
  • Related: “Sport” vs “Sports” Origin
    – choster
    May 5, 2015 at 13:17

5 Answers 5


"sports" is a singular noun. This is creating a problem for me (as a teacher) because it sounds 'odd' even if it is correct (i.e. one of the exceptions to the rule).

I am a teacher, too, and I remember that when I was a student, I was baffled by what seemed a more 'odd' use and that is of sports as an adjective: "sports car"

But you can overcome your difficulty if you think of many words (like economics = economic activity/-ies) that are plural in appearance and nevertheless are treated as singular.

The only (slight) difference is that sports can be treated both as singular and plural: the plural usage is obvious, to justify the singular usage think that (like economics) it really means: sporting activity/ies

You can find a clear definition here:


    1. a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other

"Ice-skating with friends is my favorite sport."

    1. sports in general
    1. a physical activity (such as hunting, fishing, running, swimming, etc.) that is done for enjoyment

So, you use the singular for one type of 'sport' and the plural for 2 or more;

"Football, basketball, and hockey are all team sports, 'I enjoy winter sports like skiing and skating.'"

but you can use indifferently the singular or the plural form to indicate the 'physical activity':

"I used to do a lot of sport when I was younger." You can see here that both forms are used for the same sentence:

Sport (or sports) is all forms of usually competitive physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills.

You can find more examples on the web:

...“sports” as singular when it refers to a general field of activity or interest. He would say “sports is my chief interest, next to grammar,” because he is not thinking of different individual sports but about the field of athletics in general. Fry was referring to sports in general as a field of coverage, and, as Buck sees it, was right to use the singular.

But when sports refers to a number of individual activities, it becomes plural. So Buck would say, “my favorite sports are baseball, football and bronc-riding.”

In conclusion, it is no exception to any rule, if 'sports is' sounds weird to you you can use the singular form in most contexts.

Note 1.: writing this post I realize that 'sports' used as an adjective can refer to both forms of the word: sports car, and sports column.

Note 2.: besides being an adjective, on its own sports is a singular noun when it is an elliptical form of:

  • [a] sports [car]
  • [the] sports [column]

Source: Oxford Dictionary


When used to refer to different activities, "sports" is plural, but it is singular when used to refer collectively to sports in general, such as in the following (from the free dictionary):

Sports is a good way for children to get exercise.

sports equipment

  • Just wondering why "Sports ARE good ways for children to get exercise" incorrect. May 5, 2015 at 10:36
  • @JaveerBaker: The reason it sounds incorrect is that the "are" forces "sports" to refer to different sports, but semantically we didn't actually want to say that these individual activities themselves are "ways to get exercise", just like you would not say "Fruits are good ways to get vitamins.". Rather we want to say "engaging in sports is a good way to get exercise", and hence the singular "sports" can be used since it semantically refers to anything pertaining to sports, like in "sports day/field/equipment". It's not just a matter of referring to them as a group but as a whole.
    – user21820
    May 5, 2015 at 11:48
  • @JaveerBaker Even if you use sports in the plural here, there is no reason to make the complement plural as well. That just sounds strange. “Sports is/are a good way for children to get exercise” are both perfectly fine. “Football and tennis are both good ways for children to get exercise” works too, because those are seen as different ways of doing the same thing. In the same vein, “Meatballs are my favourite dish” (singular), but “Lasagne and meatballs are my favourite dishes” (because they’re different). May 5, 2015 at 11:56
  • @JaveerBaker: Yes what Janus said as well, though I think "sports are a good way" uses metonymy to force the audience to take the plural "sports" to refer to "engaging in sports" since "a good way" is singular and grammatically does not match. Same for "fruits is a good way to get vitamins", which has to mean "eating fruits is a good way ...", while "fruits is a good way to attract flies" has to mean "having fruits around is a good way ...". In other words it is metonymy at work in his "sports are a good way ..." and "football and tennis are both good ways ...", not intrinsic semantics.
    – user21820
    May 5, 2015 at 12:06
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Do you agree with my analysis of your examples?
    – user21820
    May 5, 2015 at 12:07

Sports is definitely plural. You can have a singular sport (such as football or soccer), or multiple sports (such as football AND soccer).

Thus, the correct usage would be the ones you posed:

I like playing sports. Sports have always been of interest to me.


"Sports is good for you."

Here it is used collectively, meaning many sporting activities, so as a collective noun it is definitely singularly.

  • It would be helpful if you also indicated the correctness of the singular usage in a similar context. Jan 27, 2016 at 19:10

"Sports" when used with an s is taken as an adjective and is considered singluar. For instance Learning sports is a good way to stay healthy.

In all other cases the word "sports" is plural.

Sports have taught me to be fit.

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