“Is” and “are” are linking verbs for the present tense of “to be.” English uses “is” for singular nouns and “are” for plural nouns.
What is the difference between is and are?
There are several confusing verbs in the English Language, but none are more tricky than “to be,” which contains eight different verb forms. “Is” and “are” are simply two of these forms, but English speakers often struggle to use them correctly.
“Is” and “are” for the present tense
English speakers use “is,” “are,” and “am” for the present tense of “be,” which are linking verbs that connect sentence subjects with other adjectives, compliments, nouns, and verbs. But unlike other verbs, “be” never describes the action of a sentence. Instead, specific verb forms assist other activities within separate past, present, and future tenses:
- Am, are, is: present tense.
- Was, were: past tense.
- Be: future tense.
- Being: present participle.
- Been: past participle.
“Is” is singular, “are” is plural
The tricky part about “is” vs. “are” involves subject-verb agreements, where a singular subject noun agrees with a singular verb, and a plural subject noun agrees with a plural verb.
As a general rule of thumb, the word “is” is singular and “are” is plural. Therefore:
- “Is” references singular subjects in the present tense.
- “Are” references plural subjects in the present tense.
How is this so? The singularity and plurality of pronouns depend on whether the subject is a single person (i.e., I, you, she, he, it) or a group of people (we, they, them).
“She is singing.” (singular subject + singular verb + verb)
“We are singing.” (plural subject + plural verb + verb).
“Is” vs. “are” for the first-, second-, and third-person perspective
When the sentence subject involves a personal pronoun, the first-, second-, and third-person perspectives also affect how we use “is” and “are.” For instance,
- The first person perspective uses “I” and “we” to discuss ourselves or our experiences.
- The second person perspective uses “you” to discuss “your” experiences.
- The third-person perspective uses he, she, it, and they to discuss experiences that belong to someone else.
Conclusion: are vs. is
Based on what we know about verb tense, pronouns, and perspective, we can summarize the major differences between “are” and “is” as such:
- “Is” agrees with pronouns she, he, and it for the third-person singular present tense.
- “Are” agrees with pronouns you, we, and they for the first, second, and third-person plural present tense.
Summary of “be” verb forms:
- Am: the first-person singular for the present tense.
- Are: second-person singular or plural for the present tense.
- Is: third-person singular for the present tense.
- Was: first- and third-person singular for the past tense.
- Were: second-person singular, plural, or subjunctive for the past tense.
- Be: subjunctive for the present tense.
- Being: the present participle of “be.”
- Been: the past participle of “be.”
Need more help?
If reviewing verb fundamentals feels overwhelming, don’t worry. The Word Counter Grammar Guide for “is” vs. “are” covers how to use the verbs for subject-verb agreements, pronouns, mass nouns, compound subjects, and more.
What does “to be” mean?
The words “is” and “are” are two of eight verb forms for the word “to be,” which means:
- To belong or be equal.
- To share an image or identity with something else.
- To exist, occur, or maintain.
- To arrive and depart.
What does is mean?
The word “is” is the third-person singular present tense of the verb “to be.” We use “is” to describe how a person, place, or thing exists, thinks, or behaves. For example,
“The teacher is charming.”
“She is reading a book.”
“This is an English class.”
“He is alive.”
“Is it nice outside?”
What does are mean?
The word “are” is another verb form of “to be,” which we use for the first, second, and third-person in the present tense. Like other forms of “be,” we use the verb “are” to describe how people or things exist, think, or behave.
“They are running.”
“We are smart.”
“You are learning.”
“The politicians are speaking.”
“Are the trees blooming?”
Abide, breathe, continue, do, endure, exist, flourish, happen, kick, last, lie, live, lead, occur, persist, prosper, rank, rule, sit, stand, subsist, survive, thrive, transpire.
Depart, die, disappear, evaporate, expire, perish, succumb, vanish, wane.
Grammar guide: How to use is vs. are in a sentence?
The most basic grammar rule for “is” vs. “are” involves subject-verb agreement:
- “Is” is a singular verb, so it takes singular subject nouns.
- “Are” is a plural verb, so it takes plural subject nouns.
Sentence examples: Subject noun + singular/plural verb
“My leg is swollen.” (singular)
“Her legs are sore.” (plural)
Is vs. are for personal pronouns
When it comes to personal pronouns, the verb “to be” is also dependent on perspective (first, second, third-person) and verb tense (past, present, future). And since “is” is the third-person singular present tense of the verb “to be,” we only use “is” with she/he/it pronouns (and sometimes “your”).
Meanwhile, we use “are” for the following tenses:
- First-person plural present tense: we.
- Second-person singular/plural present tense: you, your.
- Third-person plural present tense: they.
- “Is” agrees with singular pronouns your, she, he, and it.
- “Are” agrees with you, your, they, and we.
Sentence examples: Subject pronoun + singular/plural verb
“Is he feeling alright?”
“She is the CEO.”
“Is it cold outside?”
“Where is your notebook?”
“Are you okay?”
“They are hiking.”
“We are driving to the store.”
“Where are your notes?”
Is vs. are for singular vs. plural indefinite pronouns
As one might expect, “is” agrees with singular indefinite pronouns, while “are” agrees with plural indefinite pronouns. The tricky part is understanding which pronouns are singular or plural.
Use “is” for singular indefinite pronouns
Singular indefinite pronouns end with -body or -one:
- Anyone, anybody
- Everyone, everybody
- No one, nobody
- Someone, somebody
- Either, neither
- One, each
- Little, less
Examples: singular verb + singular indefinite pronoun
“Where is everyone?”
“Nobody is here.”
“There is someone outside.”
Use “are” for plural indefinite pronouns
Plural indefinite pronouns indicate plural nouns:
- Few, fewer
- Both, many, others, several
Examples: plural verb + plural indefinite pronoun
“There are fewer gatherings now.”
“Many are leaving the city.”
“Others are staying at home.”
What about indefinite pronouns that are singular and plural?
For indefinite pronouns that are singular or plural, the use of “is” and “are” depends on the noun and verbs they reference. Such pronouns include all, any, more, most, none, and some.
“Most of my room is clean.” (singular)
“None of my clothes are put away.” (plural)
Is vs. are for mass nouns
Mass nouns represent uncountable nouns, such as time or sky. While referencing a mass noun, always use “is.” For example,
“There is coffee in the cupboard.”
“Is butter a carb?”
“The sky is blue.”
Is vs. are for collective nouns
We can use “is” and “are” to reference collective nouns, which describe a number of people or things as a single entity. For instance, the words jury, class, and population are all collective nouns. But when it comes to collectives nouns, how we use “is” and “are” also depends on the regional dialect:
- American English uses “is” for collective nouns and “are” for describing individuals of a group.
- British English uses “is” or “are” for all collective nouns.
Sentence examples: Collective noun + singular/plural verb
“The band is performing later.” (U.S. & U.K.)
“The band are performing later.” (U.K. only)
“The bandmates are performing later.” (U.S. & U.K.)
Is vs. are for compound subjects and lists
Use the verb “are” for sentences containing two or more subjects (especially when connected by “and”). For example,
“Are your friends and relatives joining?” (plural)
However, if you’re describing a series of singular nouns, “are” is not the correct choice. For instance,
“There is a dog, turtle, and an iguana.” (singular)
There is vs. there are
To decide between “there is” and “there are,” always check to see which noun follows the phrase:
- If the noun is singular, use “there is.”
- If the noun is plural or a mass noun, use “there are.”
“There is a truck.” (singular)
“There are two trucks” (plural)
Is vs. are for collecting phrases
The English language uses several collecting phrases, such as:
- “A number of…”
- “A pair of…”
- “A group of…”
To use “is” or “are” correctly, look for which noun the collective phrase is referencing:
- If the noun is plural, use “are.”
- If the noun is singular or a mass noun, use “is.”
Sentence examples: singular/plural verb + singular/plural noun
“There is a number of students who skip class.” (incorrect)
“A number of students are skipping class.” (correct)
“A group of people is socializing outside.” (correct)
“There are groups of people socializing outside.” (correct)
“Is there a pair of shoes in the grass?” (correct)
“A pair of shoes are lying in the grass.” (correct)
Test how well you understand the difference between “is” and “are” with a multiple-choice test. For the first five questions, choose the correct form of “be.”
- “The Empire State Building ___________ located in New York City.”
- “Her favorite websites ___________ Twitter and Reddit.”
- “The students ___________ drawing pictures of their high school.”
- “My mother ___________ proofreading my college essay.”
- “I ___________ writing for a newspaper.”
- When the subject of the sentence is singular, the verb is ___________.
- Which pronoun takes the plural form of a verb?
- “Action verbs and linking verbs.” Tutorial & Instructional Programs, Gallaudet University, 2020.
- “Are.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “Be.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Indefinite pronouns.” Writing Tools, Writing Tips, Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2020.
- “Making subjects and verbs agree.” Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, 2020.
- “Personal Pronouns.” Excelsior Online Writing Lab (OWL), Excelsior College, 2020.
- “To be.” Reverso Conjugation, Reverso-Softissimo, 2020.
- “Six Differences Between British and American English.” Learning English, Voices of America News, 6 Sept 2017.