Someone please explain why singular to plural to singular is correct. In my opinion, this makes no sense.

Edit for clarification of what I'm asking: My point is that double linking verbs are not OK as they lack an object in between (and cannot share a subject or object in such cases). One of my sources for this is here: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/when-are-double-words-ok?page=1

And here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_copula, which is partially relevant. Except that we're taking it to a whole new level by changing plurality of a word!

Also: https://www.quora.com/When-did-the-double-is-usage-as-in-the-thing-is-is-become-common-or-at-least-unremarkable

Same idea goes for sentences like "All there is is a cat" (which, again, I find ungrammatical) or "A cat is is all there" (flipped around version, or the predicate adjective form of the predicate nominative using the same singular form instead of going from plural to singular or singular to plural which is an even more extreme case of incorrectness I believe).

BUT, people still say things like this: "all there is are socks." So why not say, "all there are is a sock?" Same idea in terms of grammar? Or is that wrong? Why can a predicate nominative not be flipped to a predicate adjective form? Quite confused here.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Jan 22, 2016 at 9:46
  • It's been a while since we discussed this question. We now have a trial regarding the reopen process. I encourage you to check it out and make an argument for reopening your question. It's not a duplicate of the question it's claimed to be.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 20, 2016 at 13:31
  • @Lawrence: Lucidity of Power was the person who closed the question in the first place. (When a question is closed by "Community," it means that the owner of the post agreed that the post was a duplicate: meta.stackexchange.com/a/250930/306255) Oh, I see I already commented about that on the Meta post... so I'm confused about why you think LoP would want to make an argument for reopening the question.
    – herisson
    Mar 23, 2016 at 20:34
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    @sumelic See this comment when I asked him about it.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 23, 2016 at 23:29
  • The question itself doesn't really need editing to not be a duplicate (there's no double copula in the sample in the title), so I've initiated the reopen process.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 23, 2016 at 23:37

1 Answer 1


You're asking two questions regarding "all there is are idiolects" (the comma is extraneous and will be discarded for this answer), which I'll paraphrase:

  1. Is "is are" a double copula here?
  2. Is there a grammatical problem with plurality for "is are" here?

1. Is there a double copula?

Copula A connecting word, in particular a form of the verb be connecting a subject and complement. - ODO

The double copula in the sense of "the thing is, is that ..." is ungrammatical. Your idiolects example has no double copula.

In the phrase all there is, the word is is not a copula - it doesn't connect a subject to a complement. It is instead an instance of the existential is. Setting aside the issue of plurality for the moment, the phrase all there is translates to all the instances.

Breaking down the sentence, we have:

  • all = everything (noun);
  • that: "Used to introduce a defining clause, especially one essential to identification" - definition 5 in ODO (see also example 5.1 in the same link). Constrains all to those that exist (see below);
  • is = "exists" - definition 1 in ODO (see the last example in definition 1). Defines which instances of all are being considered;
  • are: copula, joining "all that is" with "idiolects"; and
  • idiolects: noun

So "all that is" is a noun phrase. Leaving aside the issue of plurality again for now, we can replace that noun phrase with the pronoun "they". The sentence then reduces to, and has the sense of,

they are idiolects.

As you can see, there is no double copula here. Likewise with "all there is is a cat" and "all there are is a sock".

With a cat is is all there, though, "a cat is" isn't a noun phrase. Both instances of is link a cat to all there, so that second version is a double copula and it is therefore ungrammatical.

2. Is there a grammatical problem with plurality for "is are"?

I'm still a little unsure of this part but will articulate an opinion and invite further discussion.

The plurality of all isn't in question - it has singular or plural agreement depending on what it references. See this ELL answer, this EL&U answer, and rule 8 of this link. For example, "all of the roses are red" and "all of the rose is red" are both grammatical. We're then left with whether the noun phrase "all there is" can have plural agreement.

Consider a similar sentence: All that's left are scraps. The word all refers to the collection of things left behind, perhaps a few bones and some gristle. I suspect that if there is flexibility in regarding the collection as either a unit or as a plurality of its constituents, we also have the flexibility to consider the noun phrase as singular or plural. The singular case would give rise to a sentence like All that's left is scrap.

In your example, the singular case would be "all there is is idiolect", but the plural case "all there is are idiolects" is also grammatical. Note, though, that the singular case for both the scrap and idiolect examples raise the level of abstraction - they refer to the nature of the instances rather than the instances themselves.

  • There's still a grammatical loop in there. All of that is fine but are idiolects is a fragmented clause/phrase (it seems to be both). A clause because it seems to have the subject idiolects doing the verb of are but it's a phrase, too, because it has the noun idiolects that is an object that isn't doing the action of are. Basically: depending on the way it's written ("are idiolects" vs "idiolects are"), there's a linking verb, and there is an object. What is the subject then? It cannot possibly be grammatical to say are idiolects as a complete sentence. Jan 30, 2016 at 19:14
  • If you put a comma between the two in "all there is, are idiolects" you're borrowing the subject from the previous independent clause, which cannot be independent because you've separated it by a comma (it would be ungrammatical to say, "All there[,] are little boys." You can say "All are little boys," but to separate with a comma? Why? How? For your sentence above "If you remove the sheet metal", the subject is "are" and "nuts and bolts" is the object. Furthermore, using "If" is fine there because you create a subordinate clause instead of using it as an independent clause. Jan 30, 2016 at 19:16
  • So, I'm not doubting what you're saying (in fact, I agree), but you've completely changed the sentence structure by giving me that second example. The second sentence is 100% grammatically correct if you break it down to its components of subjects and objects. The issue remains with this: for are, where is the subject? Idiolects cannot be BOTH, an object and a subject, and all is not even in the sentence because of a comma separating it from the right side; otherwise, you've got two linking verbs that change all from singular to plural. Pretty sure you can't do that. Jan 30, 2016 at 19:30
  • @LucidityofPower It looks like you're taking are idiolects to be an independent clause. I don't think it is. Taking the original quote as a complete sentence, I'd call the noun phrase All there is the subject, idiolects the object, and are is the verb linking the two. I'll add this to the answer.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 31, 2016 at 0:08
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    @LucidityofPower Why do you think two is' in "all there is is a cat" are double linking verbs? They have a different function. If you replace the first is with exists, it becomes clearer.
    – user140086
    Feb 6, 2016 at 6:55

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