We say

"Two threes are six"


"Four fours are sixteen"

when talking about multiplication tables. We also say

"One ones are one"

But one isn't plural, so we should say "One one is one", right?

  • 1
    I think you're correct. One one, is just one, one time, so it's singular. It isn't as if you have two or three ones. Then it would be plural, like: five ones are five. – RE Lavender Sep 9 '16 at 3:47
  • 1
    Yes. Ungrammatical. Correct: "One one is one. " A beautiful tautology! So obvious is never needs to be uttered. – curious-proofreader Sep 9 '16 at 4:10
  • We're just used to "are" so we use it quite often I believe – Aman Thakkar Sep 9 '16 at 6:01

Yes, one should say, "one one is one" ... and "one four is four" and "one n is n". Even "One zero is zero." Nothing funny going on here. As per Strunk and White in The Elements of Style, The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

Note (revised based on comment by @AmanThakker): "Two threes are six" could be either multiplication or addition. "Four fours are sixteen" seems like multiplication but it, too, could be addition. If one were to say, "Three twos are six" or "Two eights are sixteen," most readers would infer addition immediately. Obvious but perhaps worth noting: our minds fill in the "operation" blanks one way or another almost automatically.

  • 1
    Couldn't it always be addition? Like four fours are sixteen means 4+4+4+4=16. I liked your explanation though – Aman Thakkar Sep 9 '16 at 6:00
  • Every multiplication could be a repeated addition. However, when you express it as multiplier times multiplicand (as you do in all these examples of N groups of size M), then it is a multiplication, not an addition. – michael.hor257k Sep 9 '16 at 7:44
  • @michael.hor257k If I were to say "five ones are five" without specifying either multiplication or addition, I see no reason I couldn't interpret "five ones" as either 5x1 or 1+1+1+1+1. In fact, in this case the latter seems more natural. – Richard Kayser Sep 9 '16 at 10:12
  • I am not sure what natural means in this context. "Five ones" means five instances of one - which is another way of saying five times one. You could also look at it as a set of ones with five members {1, 1, 1, 1, 1 }. But you cannot "interpret" it as an addition without changing its nature (pun intended). – michael.hor257k Sep 9 '16 at 10:21
  • @michael.hor257k I'm out of commission right now. I'll think on it. That's the natural thing for me to do. Do you have an authoritative source? I think all you can say about five ones is that without further information it means five ones, like the five one-dollar bills in my wallet (which happen to sum to five dollars, once I've defined "sum"). Later. – Richard Kayser Sep 9 '16 at 11:10

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