I am writing a paper on the topic of “dharma”. I have written:

“Within these two categories exists all forms and definitions of dharma.”

I am stumped! Is it supposed to be exist or exists, and why?

  • The subject is the postposed 'all forms and definitions of dharma'. Though I can't see the logic, as it seems to mix differing concepts, it has to be considered plural and so mandates 'exist'. Oct 2, 2019 at 18:24
  • Thank you for your answer. Yes, I understand now. I apologize for not replying sooner, but I am new here and didn’t realize you had responded.
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:06
  • To give a little background on my question, I am launching a monthly “Newsletter” regarding the ancient practice of “Bhakti-yoga”. In this first edition, I am writing more specifically about its practice within the social-familial divisions (Varasram-dharma) of society.
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:57
  • I am stating that all sub-divisions of dharma, including all definitions and forms of dharma, are categorized under one of two headings, either “Naimittka” (impermanent) or “Nitya” (eternal). In my statement, I used “exists” to point out this fact, but wasn’t sure if it should be in the singular form or plural. I see now by the answers and explanations given that the plural form was/is correct.
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


The complete subject of the sentence is "all forms and definitions of dharma." The simple subject is "all." The verb must agree with the simple subject "all." All can be singular or plural, depending upon what it represents. In this case "all" represents "forms and definitions," which is plural. The verb then is plural: exist.

Rearrange the sentence and it becomes clear.

All forms and definitions of dharma exist within these two categories.

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question! Originally I had “exist“, but changed it because it didn’t quite sound right. Then after seeing “exists”, it didn’t sound right either. Then reading it again they both started sounding right and wrong at the same time! Sheesh! Your answer made it very clear, and I very much appreciate it! Thank you! I feel more confident now to change it back to what I originally had.
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 1:19
  • By the way, I’m taking your advice and rearranging the sentence. It really does make it become more clear! Hope that’s not plagiarism :-)
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 1:29
  • If that's plagiarism, we're all in trouble. Good luck with your paper.
    – Zan700
    Oct 3, 2019 at 2:12
  • Thank you. Much appreciate!
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 11:06

It has to do with whether one is talking about substance or countable items.


  • All water is wet.
  • All oceans are salty.

Water is a continuous substance. No matter how much of it one has, it is still singular.

Oceans are discrete things. It's possible to have one ocean, or two oceans, or seventeen oceans, but it's not possible to have two and a half oceans. Unless there is only one, oceans are plural.


  • The two and a half litres of milk that he poured is more than enough.
  • The four litres of milk are in the fridge door.

The first is an amount of milk, the second is a number of cartons of milk.

In the question, "all forms and definitions" might involve a large number, but it will still be an integral number. So unless it is 1, it is plural, and so "exist", not "exists", is appropriate.

  • Perfect explanation! It’s just what I needed to understand a little bit more in depth. I really appreciate you taking the time.
    – Bhavadasa
    Oct 3, 2019 at 1:24

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