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Subject–Verb Agreement: Non-Count Nouns That End in -s

January 3, 2013

This is interesting news!

Almost all English grammar rules have exceptions that can cause our students endless confusion. That’s why, whenever an exception pops up during class, I like to point it out to refresh my students’ memories. A common source of confusion is subject–verb agreement, particularly when it pertains to non‑count nouns that end in ‑s. Some of these nouns are common in speaking and writing, and you can bet they often appear on tests such as the TOEIC. Here are some of the worst offenders:

1. News

I often remind my students that news is non‑count—we can’t say “one new, two news.” Think of news as information or a collection of stories. News always takes a singular verb, like any non‑count noun would.

  • The news was really interesting last night.
  • No news is good news.

2. Customs

The non‑count noun customs is defined as "the agency that collects duties or tolls on imports or exports." (Going through customs at the airport is a common example.) Customs always takes a singular verb in this case. Note that this word is not to be confused with the count noun custom, which is defined as "a tradition or common practice." (Taking off your shoes when you enter someone’s house is a good example of a Canadian custom.) In this case, custom takes a singular verb, while customs takes a plural verb.

Meaning Example
#1 (Non‑Count Noun) Customs is intimidating. I always get nervous when I have to talk to the customs agent at the airport.
#2 (Count Noun) Japanese customs fascinate me. For example, the Japanese tea ceremony custom is intricate and beautiful.

3. School Subjects

School subjects are also non-count nouns since they represent a collective field of study. They take a singular verb. Some subjects don’t end in ‑s (and therefore aren’t confusing), such as psychology, chemistry, or English. But some end in ‑s even though they take a singular verb, such as physics, mathematics, etc.

  • Physics is difficult for me. I’m failing that class.
  • Statistics was a fun course. I enjoyed learning how to analyze survey results.

Can you think of any more examples of nouns like these? If so, please share them with us in the comments section below.

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Comments (4)

Anick N.(Teacher)

Can you explain to me why in some cases the word fruit (or even the word FOOD)has a 's' when most of the grammar says it is a non-count noun? This little word had always caused me trouble and teachers around me can not answer me well. Thanks

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Anick,

Great question! It's not common to hear non-count nouns as plural words, but it is possible in some cases. With words like food/foods, fruit/fruits, and people/peoples, when you use the -s form, you are referring to different TYPES of that group.

For example, I would say 'I ate a lot of food on the weekend' to mean that I ate a lot, in general. If I said 'The buffet has many delicious foods' that would imply that there are different types of cuisines available, such as Chinese food, Japanese food, and Thai food. 'Peoples' is another one that would refer to different ethnic groups that make up a region or country. 'Fruits' is less necessary to say, but it is possible, if you really want to emphasize that you ate different types of fruit, and not just apples and oranges, for example.

Hope that helps!

Mina B.(Teacher)

Hi there,
You may add : Money, Time and collective nouns to this, as some exceptions in Grammar :)
Thank you, this is great!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Mina,

You're welcome! I've written another blog post on Count & Non-Count Nouns where you can see examples of other non-count nouns that don't end in -s (such as money and time): https://esllibrary.com/blog/count-non-count-nouns

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