When to use is or are after a list?

Ah, language. The one thing we all use, yet can’t seem to agree on. And don’t even get me started on grammar!

One of the most contentious issues in the English language is when to use “is” or “are” after a list. It may seem like a small detail, but trust me, it’s important.

In this article, we’ll explore this linguistic phenomenon and hopefully put an end to the debate once and for all.

What Are We Even Talking About?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of using “is” or “are,” let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what exactly we’re discussing here.

We’ve all seen phrases like these:

  • My favorite fruits are apples, bananas, and oranges.
  • The colors of the rainbow are red, orange, yellow…you get the idea.
  • Some famous monuments in Paris include the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.

As you can see from these examples (and countless others), lists often end with either “is” or are.”

But how do you know which one to choose? That’s where things get tricky…

Figuring Out Which One To Use

The Rule Of Thumb
At its core level / Most experts agree that

According to most experts (whoever they may be), there is a rule of thumb when it comes to deciding whether to opt for “is” usage over “are”.

That rule is simple: If your list contains only one item – be it an object subject or anything else ordinarily described by another noun – then you should always follow up with “is.” Think singular vs plural; if your list has more than 1 item listed separate by commas hence forth dubbed as comma separated lists ‘CSL’, then you ought to use the “are” tag.

Here’s an example:

  • The only fruit on my grocery list is a pineapple. (one item = singular = “is”)
  • My favorite fruits are apples, bananas, and oranges. (multiple items = plural = “are”)

Another way of thinking about this is that if your CSL has enough items in it to function as its own sentence or statement, then congratulation – your work here is done

Exceptions Exist Of Course

Now for some bad news: there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to the English language (why should there be?)

Exceptions exist even in cases / Contrary examples
There will always be exceptions that will trip you up Hence forth exception usage tagged EUT so beware!

For instance, consider these examples:

  • The only thing left on my plate is spinach.
  • A few of my friends who are pilots include Jane and Bob.

These sentences violate our rule established earlier, because both contain subjects with which one would expect plurality associated products unique identifier appear after separate commas.

In the first example – absence of commas’ induced sense such helps create ambiguity. With no CS being observed within the underlined portion ,you could easily start picturing lazy spinaches lying around unconcerned with group mentality . In short we have come against our friend colloquially referred to by linguistics experts as ‘inversion’.

The second example differs but still trips us up; whilst technically not strictly depicting inversion like above case ,the underlined segment juxtaposes broader category restriction properties a set directed towards having more numbers than given. It also contains certain quantifiable prescriptions .

So what do you do when faced with such counterexamples?

That’s right; go meta! Ask yourself what sounds correct speaking out loud? Does grammar correctness drown out everything else including sound alternatives graced by poetic license?

In Conclusion

So there you have it folks – the million-dollar question of when to use “is” or “are” after a list finally answered (kinda/sorta).

Remember, for most cases, if your CSL has more than one item listed then generally “are’” should be used. If it consists of only one / has an absent/unique determiner / mathematically coupled statement within which rule applies ,then as all-English teacher goes ‘go ahead and follow up with is’. And given nature’s proclivity towards unpredictable wiggle room remember possible exceptions so seek contextually coherence during writing time.

In reality however, English language in practice tends to cause constant conversation provoking irritation from rivals cough those French people cough, lending credence to idea that maybe grammar rules were invented just so we could break them into categories EUTs later

At least now you’ll have something insightful and funny to say during your next debate with grammar aficionados!


Here’s a quick cheat sheet for future reference:
Is usage follows items unique enough not needing separate identification
Are tagging occurs after multiple objects go through separate comma lists
reasoning mostly centred around plurality
– Exceptions are evident even when presented picturesquely
making linguistics interesting since day dot.
(Note: This article is intended for entertainment purposes only)

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