"Debris are called toxins."

In this sentence, should I use "is" or "are"? I understand "debris" is an uncountable noun, so normally I would use "is". But I am referring to different kinds of debris. Toxins are referring to a collection of debris. So is "are" the correct way?

Or should I reformat this sentence?

  • 1
    I've only ever known "debris is/was"
    – NVZ
    May 27 '16 at 10:31
  • 5
    Debris is a singular, non-count noun. So you have to say things like pieces of debris, kinds of debris etc.
    – WS2
    May 27 '16 at 10:49
  • 1
    Whether or not you use a plural verb, you need to put The before debris. May 27 '16 at 11:28
  • 2
    It seems odd to me that you are equating debris and toxins, regardless. You might want to check their definitions.
    – Hot Licks
    May 27 '16 at 11:57
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    And why do you say "the debris are called toxins." Why not "the debris are toxins"? Or "the debris consists of toxins"? Or maybe just "the debris is toxic"? Why mention what it's called rather than what it is? Are they called toxins without actually being toxins? May 27 '16 at 12:14

I have only heard "debris is/was" and if there are many, use "pieces/piles of debris are/were".

From ncsu.edu (styling mine)

Debris doesn't have a grammatical plural in English. If you want to talk about a lot of debris—or if you want to pick it up—you have to gather it into plural piles.

You may be wondering how a grammarian can tell that debris is singular instead of plural. There are two clear signs:

First, debris always takes a singular verb: "Debris is knee deep in the backyard."
Second, we always refer to it by a singular pronoun: "The debris is knee deep. I don't know what to do with it."

Debris is not the only noun in English without a plural. Collective nouns that define a set of inanimate objects (luggage, dinnerware) are also regularly singular, as are nouns that refer to noncountable masses of substances (bacon, lox).

As Hurricane Fran has taught us, however, debris would be easier to pluralize than to carry to the curb.

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