Is” vs. “Are” – What’s the Difference? Understanding Verb Conjugations

Marcus Froland

Getting English right can sometimes feel like walking through a minefield. One wrong step – or in this case, word – and the whole sentence blows up in confusion. Today, we’re tackling two explosives: Is and Are. These little words pack a powerful punch, guiding our sentences with precision. But mix them up? And suddenly, you’re not making much sense.

In the seemingly simple landscape of English grammar, Is vs. Are stands as a classic conundrum that trips many learners up. It’s all about matching subjects with their correct verbs, but when you dive deeper, it gets trickier than it looks at first glance. Stay tuned as we unravel this knot together – you might be surprised at what you find.

The main difference between is and are lies in the subject they are used with. Is is used for a singular noun or pronoun, indicating one person, place, thing, or idea. For example, “The cat is sleeping.” On the other hand, are is paired with plural nouns or pronouns that represent more than one person, place, thing, or idea. For instance, “The cats are sleeping.”

An easy trick to remember is to replace the noun/pronoun with “it” for is, and “they” for are. If “it” fits better than “they”, use is; if “they” fits better than “it”, then use are.

This rule helps in writing sentences correctly and improves your English understanding.

Understanding the Basics of “To Be”

The verb “to be” serves as an integral foundation for developing a solid grasp of English grammar. By understanding its various conjugations, you can achieve clarity and coherence in your writing and communication. Unlike regular verbs, “to be” undergoes significant transformations in its conjugated forms, making it an irregular verb.

To be conjugations take on numerous forms, each corresponding to a specific subject and tense. For example:

Conjugation Subject Tense
am First person singular Present
is Third person singular Present
are Second person singular and all plurals Present
was Singular Past
were Plural Past
been Past participle
being Present participle and gerund

By mastering these conjugations, you will greatly improve your foundational grammar skills, allowing you to use the English language with increased precision and confidence.

Here are some examples of how these conjugations are used in sentences:

I am a student.
She is a teacher.
You are my friend.
He was at the park yesterday.
They were excited about the game.
The project has been completed.
The cake is being prepared.

Developing a strong understanding of the “to be” verb conjugations is vital for accurate English verb usage, sentence construction, and ultimately, for effective communication. Remember to practice these conjugations regularly, as consistent practice is key to becoming proficient in using them correctly in various grammatical contexts.

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Mastering Subject-Verb Agreement with “Is” and “Are”

In order to enhance your verb agreement education, it’s essential to learn when and how to use “is” and “are” correctly. These two verbs, despite their simplicity, can create confusion, especially with plural subjects and collective nouns. In this section, we’ll explore subject-verb agreement with “is” and “are,” address plural subjects and collective nouns, and look at some common grammar rule exceptions.

When to Use “Is” in Sentences

The key to using “is” correctly is understanding that it serves as the third person singular verb form. This means that when the subject of a sentence is in the third person and singular, such as with the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “it,” or with singular noun subjects, you’ll need to use “is.” Here are some “is” sentence examples:

  • She is a doctor.
  • The tree is tall.
  • Tom is studying English.

Navigating Plural Subjects and “Are”

On the other hand, “are” is used with second person singular subjects and all plural subjects. This means that regardless of whether “they” is being used to represent a singular or plural subject, “are” will always serve as its accompanying verb form. Here are some “are” sentence examples:

  • You are my favorite teacher.
  • Elephants are large animals.
  • They are going to the park.

Collective Nouns and Exceptions That May Confuse

While subject-verb agreement with “is” and “are” may seem straightforward, some elements of the English language can make it tricky. These can include collective noun agreement, subject-verb exceptions, and certain phrases like “there is” versus “there are,” which often present confusing grammar rules.

For instance, when it comes to collective nouns with “is” and “are,” a sentence like “The team is meeting for dinner” may cause confusion. Although “team” is a group of people, it is treated as a singular subject, requiring the use of “is.”

“The choir is performing tonight.”

Similarly, subject-verb exceptions can be seen in sentences involving units of measure or disease names. For example:

  • Four weeks is a long time.
  • Diabetes is a chronic illness.

In both of these examples, the subject may seem plural, but it is treated as a singular entity, thus requiring the use of “is.” Becoming proficient in using “is” and “are” correctly is crucial for mastering subject-verb agreement, so don’t be discouraged by these exceptions. With practice and understanding, you’ll be able to navigate even the most confusing grammar rules with confidence.

“Is” and “Are” in Questions and Negative Statements

While “is” and “are” are commonly used in affirmative sentences, their application extends to creating questions and forming negative statements as well. This flexibility allows for more precise communication in a variety of contexts. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to quickly and effortlessly use “is” and “are” in your queries and negations.

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Creating questions with “is” and “are” is fairly straightforward. In English question formation, the helper verb is placed before the subject. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Is there a problem?
  2. Are there any concerns?
  3. Is she coming to the party?
  4. Are they visiting New York?

As you can see, the placement of “is” and “are” before the subjects helps form clear and concise questions.

Negative Statements

Now, let’s turn our attention to forming negative statements with the verbs “is” and “are.” To convey negation, you’ll need to use “is not” or “isn’t” and “are not” or “aren’t.” Here are some examples:

  • She isn’t going to the party.
  • John is not feeling well.
  • They aren’t available this weekend.
  • We are not attending the conference.

These examples demonstrate how “is” and “are” can be used to effectively express negative statements.

Grammar Tips for Questions and Negations

Follow these grammar tips for questions and negations to ensure that you’re using “is” and “are” correctly:

  1. As mentioned earlier, place “is” or “are” before the subject when forming questions. For instance, “Is Jane coming to the party?”
  2. For negative statements, add “not” or use the contracted forms “isn’t” or “aren’t” after the verb “is” or “are.” For example, “I am not going to the game.”
  3. Keep subject-verb agreement in mind: use “is” for singular subjects and “are” for plural subjects.
  4. Pay attention to pronouns: use “is” with “he,” “she,” and “it”; use “are” with “you,” “we,” and “they.”

With the help of these grammar tips and some practice, you’ll gradually become more adept at using “is” and “are” in questions and negative statements. This skill will greatly enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your communications in English.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

In this section, we will explore some of the most common grammar errors and provide guidance on avoiding these mistakes when using “is” and “are” in sentences. This will help you improve your English grammar and ensure more accurate written communication.

One common mistake arises when distinguishing between collective and mass nouns. Collective nouns refer to a group of related things or individuals, while mass nouns describe unquantifiable substances. In American English, collective nouns generally pair with “is,” but can use “are” when focusing on individual group members. Mass nouns, on the other hand, align with “is.”


“The team is playing well.” (collective noun)

“The sugar is on the table.” (mass noun)

  1. Expressions introducing collections

Expressions that introduce collections, such as “a number of” or “a group of,” can also cause confusion. While they typically adopt “are” to emphasize the plurality of the subject, “is” can be used when the collective entity itself is the focus.


“A group of dolphins is called a pod.” (focus on the collective entity)

“A number of books are on the table.” (emphasis on plurality)

Confusing Expression Correct Usage
Collective Nouns The family is going on vacation. (focus on the whole group)
Mass Nouns The sand is slippery. (unquantifiable substance)
Expressions Introducing Collections A number of houses are for sale. (emphasis on plurality)
  1. Use proper subject-verb agreement based on context clues

Another tip for improving your English grammar is to ensure proper subject-verb agreement according to the context of the sentence. Make sure that you carefully read the complete sentence and apply the correct form of the verb “to be.”


“The list of ingredients is on the counter.” (singular noun: list)

“The ingredients are on the counter.” (plural noun: ingredients)

By recognizing and avoiding these common grammar errors, you will enhance your English writing and communication skills, using “is” and “are” correctly in various contexts. Keep practicing, and don’t forget to review the grammar correction tips covered in this section!

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The Subtleties of “Is” and “Are” in American English

When mastering American English nuances, it’s essential to understand the verb subtleties and advanced grammar involved in choosing between using “is” and “are.” These differences in the nuances in the English language can be attributed to the unique handling of complex grammar rules and verb form variations in American English. Developing a comprehensive grasp of these subtleties and application strategies ensures improved communication and clarity in various contexts.

To navigate these nuances, one important aspect to consider is how the intention behind the sentence influences the choice between “is” and “are.” For instance, if the aim is to emphasize individuality within a collective group or highlight pairs as a single unit, the verb form used may differ from standard subject-verb agreement rules. Similar intricacies can be observed in phrases starting with “there is” or “there are” – the correct verb choice relies on careful assessment of the following subject to accurately convey the intended meaning.

By paying close attention to the subtleties in American English, you can achieve grammatical precision and effectively express your thoughts in any nuanced context. By continually refining your understanding of these verb form variations and their applications, you can elevate your English language mastery and become a more effective and persuasive communicator.

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