Singular or plural?

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 30 00:38:06 UTC 2009

Strictly in terms of raw googits, for what it's worth, "barracks (was
or is)" gets 5 million; "barracks (were or are) gets 6.18 million.  My
guess is that there isn't much difference in the frequency of singular
vs. plural uses.  Without a determiner, as in "New barracks *was/were
built," plural is necessary, but with a definite article, "the Marine
barracks was bombed," singular works.  Barracks belongs to one of
several classes of noun that grammars list as sometimes or always
taking singular verbs and allowing the indefinite article, but these
lists rarely include any explanation beyond possible membership, e.g.,
diseases (measles, mumps, rickets), games (checkers, darts, quoits
(what's a quoit)), miscellaneous other terms (barracks, scissors,
shears).  A few years ago a graduate student of mine did his
dissertation on the treatment of words like these by different social
groups and found considerable variation both within and across groups.


On Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 3:14 PM, Bill Palmer <w_a_palmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Bill Palmer <w_a_palmer at BELLSOUTH.NET>
> Subject:      Singular or plural?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In a story reporting the location of prior chief executives at times of =
> national crisis (occasioned by the recent attempt to bomb a NWA flight), =
> CBS reported, "President Reagan was on vacation when the Marine barracks =
> in Beirut were bombed in 1983".  I would have used "was".  But I don't =
> really know which is appropriate.
> Bill Palmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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