I hope you can enlighten me. I get varying answers in Google and I need to find out which is the correct grammatical structure for these sentences.

The rest of the staff is/are on leave at the moment.

The rest of my family is/are arriving late.


10 Answers 10


I would use the singular (is) in both examples as we are referring one "staff" and one "family", even though they may consist of many people.

The same can be said for the nouns "team", "company", "organisation" etc.

NB: Edited after Peter's comment

  • I would certainly not use the singular (perhaps unless there happened to be only one person, but in that case I would be unlikely to say "the rest of my family")
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 7, 2011 at 10:43
  • This answer may be right, but the reasoning is incorrect. The reason you (and, I believe, most Americans) use the singular in these examples is that you are only referring to one "staff" or "family". Would you say "The rest of the paintings is in storage"? Oct 7, 2011 at 11:19
  • Quite right, terrible (or rather just plain wrong) explanation! Staff is an uncountable noun and family is singular. Will edit immediately! Ps. I'm British and not American, but we do (for the most part) use the same grammar!
    – Matt
    Oct 7, 2011 at 12:10
  • @Matt: I would have thought this is one of the areas of grammar where there is a British/American difference. People can say "the government are" and "the staff are" in the U.K., and people generally don't in the U.S. Oct 7, 2011 at 19:57
  • 1
    @Fraser: In my grammar, for "the rest of", as in "a lot of", the verb agrees with the noun following "of". While "rest" is the grammatical subject, it changes number. Consider a shipment of desks. "Half the shipment arrived today. The rest arrives tomorrow." or "Half the desks arrived today. The rest arrive tomorrow." Same shipment, same desks; different verb. The ambiguity here comes from the fact that the nouns "staff" and "family" can take both "is" and "are". Oct 8, 2011 at 14:08

This is my opinion. Family and staff are collective nouns. A collective noun, as we know, may take a singular or plural verb depending on whether we see it as a unit or a collection of individuals. Therefore, if the rest of the family is moving as one, then we can say, "The rest of my family is arriving late" (this means the other members of the family are arriving together).

Fraser Orr is correct in saying that the subject is the word rest but the singularization or pluralization of the verb depends much on the specific noun that follows the abovementioned subeject. Take the following examples.

  • The rest of the apples are rotten.
  • The rest of the book was burned.

The use of this becomes confusing if the noun that follows is a collective noun.


Either singular or plural can be correct, especially in British English. The reason can be seen in two steps, involving two things which complicate subject-verb agreement: number-transparent nouns and collective nouns (CGEL, pp. 501-504).

Let me remind you that the subject is always the whole noun phrase (NP), so in your first example, the subject is the NP the rest of the staff, and in your second example, the subject is the NP the rest of my family. The question of whether you need the singular is or the plural are rest on whether the NPs the rest of the staff and the rest of my family are singular or plural.

First step: note that rest is a number-transparent noun (CGEL, p. 350). Consider the following examples with another number-transparent noun, lot:

[1] a.  [A lot of work] was done.
      b.  [A lot of errors] were made.

In both [1a] and [1b], the subject (in brackets) is a noun phrase (NP) whose head is lot. But the number of the NP (i.e. whether the NP is singular or plural) is determined not by the head, as is normally the case, but by the number of the oblique (i.e. by the number of the complement of the preposition of): a lot of work is singular because work is singular, and so we have the singular verb was. And a lot of errors is plural because errors is plural, and so we have the plural verb were. Besides lot and rest, there are only several other clear examples of number-transparent nouns: lots, plenty, bags, heaps, loads, oodles, remainder, number, and couple (CGEL, p. 350). In the words of CGEL, a number-transparent noun allows the number of the oblique to percolate up to determine the number of the whole NP (CGEL, p. 349). In your examples, the staff and my family are the obliques, and they determine the number of the NPs the rest of the staff and the rest of my family.

So, because rest is number-transparent, the question of whether the rest of the staff is singular or plural reduces to the question of whether the staff is singular or plural. Similarly for the rest of my family and my family. And now comes step two.

Second step: even though staff and family are singular, they are collective nouns, and as such they allow optional plural override. Here is an example (CGEL, p. 501):

[2] a.  [The committee] has not yet come to a decision.       [simple ageement]
      b.  [The committee] have not yet come to a decision.        [plural override]

Both [2a] and [2b] are acceptable, especially in British English (in American English, the plural override is less likely). According to CGEL (p. 502),

The optionality of the override with collectives reflects the fact that there is potentially a difference of meaning between the versions with singular and plural verbs. From one perspective a committee is a single entity, but since a committee (normally) consists of a plurality of members it can be conceptualised as denoting this plural set. The construction with a plural verb focuses on the members of the committee rather than on the committee as a unit.

Besides committee, staff, and family, there are other clear examples of collective singular nouns that allow optional plural override (with appropriate verbs), such as administration, army, board, class (in one of its meanings), clergy, crew, enemy, etc. A list is given in CGEL, p. 503.

In short: in your examples, both the singular verb is and the plural verb are are acceptable. In the case of staff, if you use the plural, you are thinking of staff as a set consisting of a plurality of members. True, staff is merely the oblique (the complement of of), and is not the head of the NP which is the subject of the sentence; rather, rest is the head. But rest is number-transparent, and so the number of the whole NP is determined by the number of the oblique. And, as we said, the number of the oblique is, through the (optional) plural override, taken to be plural. In contrast, if you use the singular verb, you are thinking of staff as a single entity, and now it is this singular number that 'percolates up' to determine the number of the whole NP. The case of family works just the same.


Since "the rest" is followed by a plural noun for which one might substitute the pronoun "them," and you wouldn't say "the rest of them is late," I vote for "are."


Plural verbs are appropriate here. "Staff" and "family" can both be both mass nouns, and so can take singulars "Steve Jobs' family is mourning his loss", though, a plural can also be acceptable, "His staff are devastated." Nonetheless, the subject of the verb is not "staff" or "family," it is "the rest" with the genitive qualifier ("of the staff/family.") This subject is plural, and requires a plural verb.

The rest of the staff are on leave
The rest of the family are arriving late.

The subject of each sentence is "the rest". "Of the staff" and "of my family" are phrases qualifying "the rest".

In the case of "staff" and "family", "the rest" refers to a group of people. The group of people is countable.

The correct conjugation of "to be" for subjects referring to countables will be "are".

The rest of the staff are on leave at the moment.

In the case where "the rest" refers to an uncountable entity (e.g. "the rest of the time", "the rest of the meal", etc.), "to be" will be conjugated as "is".

The rest of the time is yours.


I'd go with singular. "Rest" is a collective noun that denotes a group defined by a characteristic. "The rest of the bunch is here."

  • Are you sure? “The rest of the players have decided to stay home and not play.”
    – tchrist
    Jan 2, 2013 at 22:12

It is awkward to say, "While some of the family is here, the rest of the family are on their way." Use the same - singular or plural in such a sentence. I have always used singular with nouns like family, team and staff. Plural is reserved for "families" or "teams."

  • But some is plural, so one would say "While some of the family are here..." and then, presumably are again? "While some of the family are here, the rest are on their way."
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 14, 2015 at 21:16

That occurs idiomatically in reference to groups (where who would sound peculiar)

According to the Ngrams

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What if I take away the quantified item? Shouldn't the verb should remain the same for consistency?

For instance:

  • The rest of the soldiers is dead

Would become:

  • The rest (...) is dead

Also, what about swapping "rest" for another expression:

  • The leader of the ants is called the queen.

I would say that "the rest" is the noun, so is always singular, regardless of what it is about, which is only a qualifier.

And by the way, this is how the logic works in French, for what it's worth in English grammar :)

  • 1
    “The rest of the soldiers is dead” is completely wrong in every context I can possibly think of. Rest may be the grammatical subject, but the verb agrees with the notional subject, which is the qualifier. Jun 17, 2014 at 19:50

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