Today, I encountered with this sentence "All people know is what you tell them" and I totally got confused why the author uses the verb IS in the sentence. I think "All people know" is plural that's why I'm confused. Could someone help me out ?

4 Answers 4


all = the only thing

The only thing people know is what you tell them.

Here is another example: All I can do is call John and ask for help.


The subject of the sentence is a Noun Phrase, and it is singular.


A noun clause can be the subject of a sentence.

It can be singular or plural: All the books I've read are purple.

  • How can I understand that the noun clause "All people know" is plural ?
    – eHH
    Apr 19, 2016 at 9:55

Basically, you can replace "All people know" with "People's knowledge", in which case, knowledge is a singular.

  • yes this is true but I'm looking for grammatical points
    – eHH
    Apr 8, 2016 at 13:37
  • Well, "all people know" constitutes a whole : "the people's knowledge", therefore, you use the singular.
    – MorganFR
    Apr 8, 2016 at 13:44
  • MorganFR when can we use this grammatical point. I mean how can we understand that a subject contains a whole. can you exemplify other examples ?
    – eHH
    Apr 8, 2016 at 13:49
  • 1
    Because you can replace one idea with another does not make a grammatical rule. Apr 10, 2016 at 17:07

Collective nouns (people, company,and the like) can use either a singular or a plural verb, depending on the meaning of the sentence.If the noun is used to refer to the group as a whole, a singular verb is used; if it refers to the individuals within the group, it takes a plural verb. In the example you gave, it is the group 'people' that is meant, not the individuals that comprise'people.' https://webapps.towson.edu/ows/moduleSVAGR.htm

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