I'm studying Intelligent Business English, there is a question like this:

... The company has offices in six countries, but the -------- are in Brussels.

a. headquarters

b. main

c. bank

d. house

I think b, c and d don't make sense, so a is the answer. But the word is "are", which means it is a plural. I looked up a source:

So, in most cases, which type is headquarters? Plural or singular?

3 Answers 3


Nouns that look like plurals, because they end in -s, but whose meaning is collective or composite, are known as ‘pluralia tantum’. Headquarters is one such, and premises, surroundings and outskirts are others. Headquarters is unusual in that it can be followed either by a singular or by a plural verb.

Quarters alone can mean almost any place of residence, including the place where troops are lodged. Ngrams shows quite a wide disparity in favour of quarters are over quarters is and a cursory look at the citations in the OED suggests that quarters in this sense is treated as plural. The OED’s earliest citation for headquarters is dated 1660: ‘The head-quarters of the Army were at Windsor.’ This suggests that the longer word took on the grammatical number of the shorter. The earliest citation for headquarters is is from 1937. The change may have come about through the perception that headquarters is a recognisably single place in a way that premises, surroundings and outskirts are not.

  • 1
    This is not correct. Pluralia tantum are truly plural, meaning they must agree with plural verb forms and determiners. Eg: Shenanigans beget shenanigans. / His antics are exhausting. / Those pants look so garish. Words like headquarters, works, crossroads, sheep, moose are merely morphologically invariable, meaning that their singular and plural forms are identical. Eg: A/Five steel works / That/those crossroads was/were often busy. / The company has one/two headquarters. Mar 8, 2023 at 8:28

Headquarters is not always plural, nor always singular, as noted in your link. Among responses at that link, "Loob" in England writes:

... if I were talking about a military HQ like the one I used to work in, I would definitely use "is".
But for a company headquarters (= the HQ of a single company), I'm pretty sure I use both "is" and "are". I was putting this down to that free-and-easy way we Brits have with collective nouns ...

Likewise, I imagined that headquarters is would be found more often in British usage than American. However, that notion is not borne out by American- and British- corpus ngrams for headquarters are,headquarters is :

AmEng BrEng

As can be seen, headquarters are is more predominant than headquarters is, in both corpora, and is more markedly so in the British English corpus than in the American English corpus. (Note, there are numerous confounding cases that ngrams does not sort out, e.g. headquarters appearing at the end of a sentence or phrase, and is or are starting another; or reference to multiple headquarters establishments. However, I think those are probably a small enough fraction of instances that the general idea holds.)

  • Wow nice! Now I know a new Google Books feature!
    – Luke Vo
    Jan 8, 2012 at 17:05

Headquarters is plural noun, but depending on the context, or better say construct, it can be used with singular or plural verb as per the dictionary.

Google has its headquarters in Mountain View, CA (Singular) Apple and Google have their headquarters in CA (Plural)

  • In your example, has and have relate to singular "Google" or plural "Apple and Google". The question is about which verbs to use with headquarters. For example: should we use "the headquarters are", or "the headquarters is"? The accepted answer explains that both are possible.
    – DAB
    May 18, 2018 at 9:09
  • The question is not about "which verbs to use with headquarters". The question was whether it is singular or plural which will drive which verb will go with it.
    – Incognito
    May 29, 2018 at 12:28
  • I grant that Apple and Google have distinct and separate headquarters, but this is about using "are" or "is" with headquarters as the subject. English is an SVO language and the subject, not the object, determines the plurality of the verb. For headquarters to "drive" the verb, it should be the subject. For instance, here is "cat" as the subject, with the verb changing accordingly : "A cat (singular subject) has two ears (plural object)", and "Cats (plural subject) have two ears". In both your examples, headquarters is the object and therefore doesn't influence the verb "to have".
    – DAB
    May 30, 2018 at 14:43

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