I was looking at the news and came across Alison Harcourt, who is an Australian grandmother still working as a tutor and mathematician from young (here).

I decided to make an anagram related to it, and after doing so, I am not sure it makes sense. Here it is:

The beautiful, ground-breaking Australian grandmother, Alison Harcourt. Says, "I've always loved numbers." Met a smile.
Mathematics (bounds, binomials, areas, values and formulae) greatly intrigue her. She's very old, but working. A natural!

Yes, I am aware that the first phrase changes from present tense to past tense, but am not concerned about that. What I am concerned about is this particular sentence:

Mathematics (bounds, binomials, areas, values and formulae) greatly intrigue her.

  • Ignoring the brackets, we get

    Mathematics greatly intrigue her.

    Which doesn't make sense. The word "intrigue" should have a plural.

  • Not ignoring the brackets, however, the sentence sounds okay.

So... is this sentence grammatically correct, or is it not?

  • 1
    Even poor grammar can "make sense". Are you really asking whether your sentence makes sense (yes, it's easily understood), whether it's grammatically correct, or whether the syntax can be improved? Please edit your question to provide some clarity. Oct 8, 2018 at 10:44
  • 1
    ‘Mathematics’ takes singular agreement - so use intrigues.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 8, 2018 at 13:59
  • “The word intrigue should have a plural” — I don’t understand this bit. As a verb (which it is here), the word intrigue is plural. As a noun (which it isn’t here), it does have a plural, intrigues. Oct 8, 2018 at 16:08
  • @Chappo I have edited accordingly. Thank you for letting me know :P
    – Mr Pie
    Oct 8, 2018 at 21:38
  • 2
    @user477343 The problem is that parentheses don’t always make it into speech. The word Mathematics can then sound like the first item of the list (which in turn needs plural agreement).
    – Lawrence
    Oct 8, 2018 at 21:51

2 Answers 2


First, about number and the suffix -s

Most nouns have a plural form that is formed by adding -s to the singular form. (There are exceptions.)

Most verbs are simply the infinitive (without to) in the (indicative) present tense, except for the third person singular, where the suffix -s is added. (Again, with exceptions.) Note that verbs in plural do not take -s. In your example, the verb intrigue is third person plural, not third person singular.

Next, is mathematics singular or plural?

This question is answered in question 51955. In short, mathematics is plural in form, but is now construed as a singular noun. It is, in current practice, followed by a singular verb.

So your example should be:

Mathematics greatly intrigues her.

In older English usage, mathematics could be followed by a plural verb, but that is no longer common usage.

Finally, the subject with the parenthetical descriptive phrase

The subject mathematics in your example is followed by the parenthetical (bounds, binomials, areas, values and formulae). An enumeration like that is always plural, no doubt about that.

When the parenthetical descriptive phrase of the subject differs in number from the main subject, I would usually argue that the verb should agree with the main subject. But since there is at least some (historic) muddiness regarding the number of the main subject, one could argue that the plural verb intrigue is not completely wrong is this case.


Oxford dictionaries (and the previous answer) say that "mathematics" as an academic subject is usually treated as a singular word, which would grammatically require "intrigues" not "intrigue". However Oxford say the word is often used as a plural in one context: when talking about the mathematical aspects of a thing (the example they give is "the mathematics of baseball") rather than as a subject in general. Hence while it sounds a bit odd because of the expectation that mathematics takes a singular verb, it can also take a plural (although maybe "the mathematics" would be more common in such contexts, as in Oxford's example).


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