Is “Each” Singular or Plural?

Each is always singular. Even for native English speakers, subject-verb agreement can sometimes be a tricky subject. Specifically, use cases involving indefinite pronouns, prepositional phrases, and collective nouns often leave even the most grammar-savvy people scratching their heads. In this article, we’ll discuss what makes these grammar rules so challenging, as well as tips to help you determine the proper verb form for every situation.

First, let’s start with the basics. A singular subject should be matched with a singular verb form. 

He is/are sad.  

In the example above, because he is singular, you should choose is, the singular verb form. 

I/We are happy. 

Because you see a plural verb form in the sentence above, you know that the subject must be plural, too. For that reason, you would choose we.

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Indefinite Pronouns

Each is an indefinite pronoun. Indefinite pronouns are uncountable, and in that way they’re different from most other pronouns. With the pronoun they, you know that a concrete number of people are being referenced. The pronoun I refers to one person. Nobody, on the other hand, can’t be counted. Anybody proves just as challenging to count. Indefinite pronouns are most often singular.

Examples:

Each is correct. 
Each of the students is correct. 
Each one is correct.

Other singular indefinite pronouns include:

  • anyone
  • anybody
  • either
  • everybody
  • everyone
  • neither
  • nobody
  • no one
  • someone
  • somebody
  • one

Some pronouns are always plural, even when they’re followed by a prepositional phrase. Here’s a list of plural indefinite pronouns:

  • both
  • few
  • many
  • others
  • several

Now, hardest of all, some pronouns can be either singular or plural depending on usage:

  • all
  • any
  • more
  • most
  • some

Take the word all. Below, you can see that all can be used with a singular verb or a plural verb.

  • All of us are coming. 
  • All of the icing is gone. 

In order to determine whether all requires a singular or plural verb, you’ll need to look at the actual usage. For instance, if the indefinite pronoun is followed by a prepositional phrase, ask yourself whether the object of the prepositional phrase is plural or singular. 

In the following sentences, we’ve highlighted the object of the prepositional phrase. 

  • All of us are coming. 
  • All of the icing is gone.

If a prepositional phrase ends with a plural noun, you should use a plural verb form, but only when it follows one of these indefinite pronouns—all, any, more, most, or some.

The word each should never be paired with the plural form of a verb. It’s always singular. 

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns—like staff, group, or team—consist of individual members that make up a single collective unit. In the United States, we treat most collective nouns as singular nouns. British English handles these words differently. For the most part, Americans treat collective nouns as a single unit. 

Keep an eye out for situations in which the emphasis is on the individual members, rather than the group. 

For example:

  • The pack of floss is in the bathroom.
  • The pack of dogs are fighting over the food.  

In the second sentence, the fighting occurs between multiple dogs in the pack, so we would consider “the pack of dogs” a plural subject.  

You could just as easily say:

The pack of dogs is moving north. 

In this context, the dogs are acting together as a single unit, so a singular verb form is appropriate. 

Here are a few examples of collective nouns:

  • audience
  • class
  • crowd
  • family
  • flock
  • committee
  • corporation
  • group
  • panel
  • staff

Review

  1. _Each/Both_ sings well. 
  2. Each corporation _files/file_ for bankruptcy. 
  3. Each family _celebrates/celebrate_ the holiday differently.
  4. _Some / Each_ of us likes football. 

Answers: 1. Each 2. Files 3. Celebates 4. Each

Sources:

  1. https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-indefinite-pronouns.html
  2. https://sites.utexas.edu/legalwriting/2017/06/05/collective-nouns-singular-or-plural/
  3. https://www.dictionary.com/e/collective-nouns/