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Do you say 'That's how physics work' or 'That's how physics works'?

The former one seems more intuitive and has a high chance of making it into a conversation but the latter one seems correct too. Or is it that they are both correct?

Considering you are talking about physics as discipline in the context of the latter while you're discussing the multitude of possibilities within physics in the case of the former.

Googling this made it pretty clear that native speakers use both these terms.

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  • My own google of 'physic' showed that the majority of the answers were medical terms, while 'how physic works' appeared in poems, or as misspellings of 'psychic'.
    – kasfme
    Sep 2 '16 at 7:20
  • please update title. Edit is disabled for me
    – Prasanna
    Sep 2 '16 at 7:23
  • A physic is a laxative. Physics is a scientific discipline. The former has a plural ending in -s; the latter is singular.
    – deadrat
    Sep 2 '16 at 7:31
  • This argument rests with Webster's. Look directly below their main entry and see what it means. Are they saying it's collective or not? If it is, then it can take either a singular or plural verb. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/physics "Physics is a science." "The physics behind this experiment are interesting because electrical as well as mechanical energy was used to solve it." Sep 2 '16 at 9:26
  • CORRECTION: "was" should be "were" in "...electrical as well as mechanical energy were used..." Sep 2 '16 at 9:33
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Speaking as a long time chemist/physicist, I know no self-respecting physicist anywhere in the world who would say, "That's how physics work." As you yourself have noted, physics is a scientific discipline and, as such, a singular noun. One should always say, "That's how physics works."

To support my assertion, I googled physic (definition), which would have to be a word in order for "That's how physics work" to make any sense. I found no references related to the discipline of physics.

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  • As Sven Yargs has said: << Hello, [Richard]. Your answer seems to be [based on personal experience] as opposed to [rigorous] objective analysis—but this site especially prizes answers that have an identifiable basis in verifiable fact rather than just [(semi?-)localised observation]. Please consider strengthening your answer by citing some independent authority that draws the same general conclusion that you do with regard to this usage. Thanks! >> However, as noted above, Reg Dwight has already provided etymological background here. Sep 2 '16 at 8:03
  • How did you google "physic"? I get results. Try define physic. It has an archaic relation to physics, the discipline; see dictionary.com
    – NVZ
    Sep 2 '16 at 8:06
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    @EdwinAshworth It's almost 4:30 AM here on the east coast of the U.S., so I'm going to have to sign off shortly. Hard to do because ELU SE is beyond addictive. A couple of points. My experiences in physics around the world over many years are not opinion -- but I grant that they are not verifiable by others. As to independent authorities, as I said in my answer, I googled "physic definition" and found no authoritative source with a definition of "physic" related to the discipline of physics. I'll check out Reg Dwight and give your comment more thought for future reference. Have a good night. Sep 2 '16 at 8:26
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    I'm not saying your conclusions are wrong. But my two degrees are in chemistry. I included references as well as observations in my MA(!) thesis, and I consider ELU to be better than a discussion forum where unsupported opinions are acceptable as answers. Sep 2 '16 at 8:40
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    @EdwinAshworth Point taken, but I don't consider my answer unsupported, at least not completely unsupported. I'm new to ELU though, and I still have a great deal to learn. I appreciate your feedback. Sep 2 '16 at 8:44
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In British English, at least, 'physic' as a singular noun is an antique word for medicine (medicine which is taken, that is, rather than medicine as a profession). There are still people around who will say 'I need a dose of physic' when they are suffering from some minor ailment but it has rather derogatory connotations and associations with quack doctors. Physics, meaning the science of the physical properties of objects and materials, is a singular noun and as such takes the third person singular form of the verb. So "That's how physics works" is correct. By the way 'mathematics' is also a singular noun which we British shorten to 'maths' while the Americans shorten it to 'math', but both are singular so it is correct in British English to say "That's how maths works". However 'maths' can also be a plural noun, particlarly when applied to a specific problem. You will sometimes hear people say things like "The maths show that perpetual motion is impossible"

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  • Wow! I was aware of the medical meaning of "physic" but unaware of "maths" as a word in British English, let alone "maths" as a singular noun. Bold Ben, I don't know what to say other than "Cool." :-) Sep 2 '16 at 8:03
  • Yes "physic" and "physics" have nothing more to do with each other than "physique" has to do with either. Despite exactly the same construction, 'That's how cars work' refers collectively to several individual cars; plural use of a quantifiable, singular noun. 'That's how physics works' refers singularly - if you like comprehensively - to a concept; singular use of an unquantifiable, abstract noun. Sep 16 '16 at 23:02

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