It is a general rule in English that singular verb goes with singular noun.

However, I find it strange when in certain clauses like "there were no problems", the verb is plural. In this case, does "no problems" have the same meaning as "no problem"? If it does, why is the verb plural?

In addition, if my sentence subject is 2 non-count nouns, or a non-count noun and a singular noun, joined by a conjunction like "and", will the verb be singular or plural and why?

Finally, when we combine 2 nouns together without any word in between, like "sport products", do we always have to use the singular form for the 1st noun? What is the difference in meaning between "sports products" and "sport products"?

For the case when we use a preposition to connect nouns like "the price of laptop", is OK if we use "the prices of laptop" or do we have to use "laptop prices"?

Edit:no problems means zero problem or it means that there is either zero or one problem? Either way, the meaning suggests it is no more than one, and hence should be singular. In other words, I think it is more reasonable for no problems to go with a singular verb.

**P.S: Don't get me wrong. I am not criticizing anything. I like English but sometimes I do find strange things, from my point of view, non-native speaker view. That's why I ask this question.

***P.S 2: for the last question, I'll make a separate topic for further discussion.

closed as too broad by AmE speaker, Nigel J, Rand al'Thor, user240918, MetaEd Dec 19 '17 at 16:13

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 5
    There were no problems. There was no problem. Plural and singular nouns go respectively with plural and singular verbs. – GEdgar Dec 16 '17 at 12:07
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    Four questions is a bit much... but for your first question, the verb is plural because problems is plural. Nothing weird. For your second question, the verb is plural because you have multiple subjects. The difference between sport products and sports products is that the latter is idiomatic, the first is not. And finally, the prices of laptop is not grammatical, because laptop is a countable noun. It's the prices of laptops, or the price of a laptop - or, indeed laptop prices. But then laptop modifies prices. For full answers, consider asking separate questions. – oerkelens Dec 16 '17 at 12:48
  • You’re misunderstanding how singular and plural works in English. It’s not that it should be plural if “it is no more than one”, but rather that, if counted numerically, it should be plural if it’s not exactly one. Most determinatives (which include numbers) select either singular nouns only or plural nouns only: singular nouns are selected by each, every, this, the precise numerical value of 1, etc.; while plural nouns are selected by both, many, these, every possible numerical value that is not 1 (including 0, 0.8, 1.3), etc. → – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 16 '17 at 14:48
  • → A few determinatives (like no/some/all/the), are a bit special in that they can freely select both singular and plural nouns. Which determinatives select which number is just something you’ll have to learn by heart; logic and meaning do not play a big role. Regardless of what number a determinative selects, however, the verb always agrees with the number of the noun, hence “There is no problem” (sg. noun + sg. verb), but “There are no problems” (pl. noun + pl. verb). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 16 '17 at 14:48
  • You are mistaking semantic equivalence for grammatical equivalence. Do not try to reason from syntax to semantics or vice versus. Those are category errors. English (or any other natural language) is under no obligation to be algebraically reducible; it has its own rules, and they’re different from the rules of algebra. – Dan Bron Dec 16 '17 at 14:48

It is a general rule in English that a singular verb agrees with a singular subject.
Not just any noun, but only its subject noun. Let's get the rule right before we start.

In the first sentence, the subject NP no problems is plural because it has a plural suffix, and not because of what it means. No problems doesn't mean plural, after all; it's zero, not more than one. In addition, There-Insertion has occurred, moving the plural subject NP to the end of the sentence, and inserting a dummy subject there before the verb. The verb continues to agree with the moved subject, which is still plural.

In the second case, two conjoined non-count nouns (say, bread and cheese), or a count and a non-count (say Mrs. Brown and her cooking), they're plural. That's what the and does. They're singular with or, however; and don't ask how it works when you conjoin a singular and a plural with or.

In the second case, noun compounds (which is what you're describing) do normally have singular first elements. This is a hangover from the rule that adjectives don't inflect for plural; the first noun in a compound isn't an adjective, but it often acts like one. This is the reason why *Shoes Store is ungrammatical, even though almost everybody buys two shoes at a time.

However, words like sports, physics, or maths that look like plural but can be used like mass nouns can also appear first in noun compounds -- both sports clothes and sport clothes are correct and and common, and mean the same thing, .

Finally, one can use prepositional phrases instead of noun compounds. For instance,

  • the prices of the laptops (a list, assuming one price per laptop)
  • the prices of this laptop (a list assuming several prices for a particular laptop)
  • laptop prices (a general survey of the market, for unspecified laptops)
  • laptop price (the price that applies to a laptop model of something).

Et cetera. There are a lot of ways to form noun phrases.

  • “Noun compounds … do normally have singular first elements. This is a hangover from the rule that adjectives don't inflect for plural” — That is not true. Noun compounds in Germanic languages have used either an unmarked singular form or a marked genitive (singular or plural) since long before adjectives became uninflected in English. The same essentially also holds true with Latin, Greek, and many other languages, with the exception that ‘unmarked singular’ usually means ‘combining form based on the singular inflectional stem’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 17 '17 at 11:35
  • Thank you. So it's not a hangover from, but rather is coherent with. – John Lawler Dec 17 '17 at 20:21

Thank you for your help. I did some more research and below are a few points I would like to recap

1. Singular/Plural nouns after determiners

  • The noun is singular when the determiner is one

E.g. One dog, one day, half a mile

  • Apart from that, the noun is plural. This goes for decimals, and zero.

E.g. zero miles, 1.0 miles, no cars

  • Some determiners can go with both singular and plural nouns, including fractions and percentage.

E.g. No problems = no problem. Any shirt = any shirts, 50% of the pie, 50% of the pies

2. Subject-Verb agreement

  • Plural verbs go with plural nouns, regardless of the determiner and their meaning.
  • Singular verbs go with singular countable nouns or uncountable nouns, regardless of the determiner and their meaning.

E.g. There was no issues = there were no issues.

About 75% of the earth's surface is water.

3. Noun-noun compound nouns

  • As a general rule, the first noun is functioning as an adjective. Hence, it needs to be singular. E.g. shoe store
  • The plural forms of some words can function as collective nouns and they can be put in the front.

E.g. sport clothes = sports clothes.

4. Noun phrase with preposition "of"

  • Depending on the situation, there are many combinations.

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