There is a well known phrase: "I'm not gay but 20 dollars is 20 dollars".

Why do we say that '$20 is $20', and not '$20 are $20'?


4 Answers 4


It's stressing not individual dollars, but an amount of $20.

You might likewise say that five gallons is not a lot of fuel, that five years is a long time, even (in the right context) that five people is a small team.


Understand that what's being talked about here is not a number of items or a quantity (whether countable or not) but a metaphor of sorts for some principle.

If a screwup by your doofus nephew caused 587 turkeys to suffocate in a closed railway car, and your aunt was trying to convince you to "forgive and forget" vs somehow making the nephew compensate you for the loss, you might reply "That's all well and good, but 587 turkeys is 587 turkeys," meaning that you've still suffered a tangible loss that was his fault, not yours, and he should have some responsibility for it.

In this case "587 turkeys" is not (rhetorically) a quantity, but rather it's a metaphor of sorts for the tangible loss. You could have (a little less dramatically) said "but a loss is a loss" or some such.

  • 5
    "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"
    – Hellion
    Oct 12, 2015 at 20:42
  • @Hellion - I have always felt that that is the funniest line ever uttered on television.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 12, 2015 at 20:47

There is a specific grammatical rule that has to do with this ordeal. It can be found at Purdue OWL, which is the source of my information:

The word dollars is a special case. When talking about an amount of money, it requires a singular verb, but when referring to the dollars themselves, a plural verb is required.

In accordance, "$20" is followed by is (singular) rather than are (plural). Hence, "I'm not gay but 20 dollars is 20 dollars".

As mentioned by the rule, if you use the word dollars singularly, it should be followed by "are" instead of "is" (i.e. Dollars are often used instead of rubles in Russia.).

  • 1
    I think Purdue is a bit too specific; not just "dollars," but all currency words work this way in English.
    – herisson
    Oct 12, 2015 at 21:19

The reason we use the word "is" instead of "are" is because we are referring the the particular object as a collection, thereby making it a single object which requires the use of the singular "is" instead of the plural form "are".

Twenty dollars is a single collection, likewise five gallons of gas and 587 turkeys are both referring to the single collective group of those items.

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