Submitted by Margaret A Giordano on October 29, 2011

“8 inches is” or “8 inches are”

Is it “8 inches is” or “8 inches are”?

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"Is" when you're treating the length as a singular quantity. "Are" on the extremely rare occasions when you're talking about the inches as separate entities.

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You need to put the question in context.

The length is eight inches (length is the subject). How long is it? It is eight inches long. (It + is)

It is an eight-inch board.

What is the distance between two points in inches? There are eight inches between the points.

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Yes, the context is extremely important. It's the same thing with the word "team". When you are talking about the individual players, you say, "The team are each putting on their cleats". When you are talking about the singular entity, you say, "That team is winning the game".

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It is like saying: Seven days is a long time to finish this work. vs There are seven days in a week.

AnWulf, in your examples for "is", .... How long is it? It is eight inches long. (It + is)

It is an eight-inch board. ...... "It is" refers to the board not to the length.

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^^^ Ing, I know that ... Why do you think I thought otherwise?

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AnWulf, one of the model questions you use is the following: "What is the distance between two points in inches?" Margaret's dilemma may be solved by giving one of the following responses: 1) "The distance is eight inches" or 2) "The distance are eight inches."

If "distance" is conceived, like "team", as a collective composed of discrete units, then it takes a 3rd person plural verb, and we should use #2 (cf. "The team are taking the field"). If on the other hand, distance is treated like "team", as it is used in the US, taking a singular verb, then we should use #1 (cf. "The team is taking the field").

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@Hairy ... That's a difference between British and American usage then.

I would never say "the team are ..." That just doesn't work in American English. The team is taking the field. The team is winning. This team wins a lot. If the team represents a city, Green Bay is winning. Green Bay is having trouble with its offense.

The name is often plural ... the Green Bay Packers are the champions. The Packers are winning. The Packers are having trouble with their defense.

The board is eight inches long. The length of the board is eight inches. Length is still singular. It doesn't matter.

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@Anwulf,

What Ing was trying to say is that your example does not actually relate to the question, because in your example the "eight inch" clause does not actually modify the rest of the sentence. Check your subject-verb agreement in that sentence.

"It is an eight-inch board"

The verb is "is". The subject? Not "eight-inch", but "board". So, even if you removed the "eight-inch" from that sentence, it is unmodified. It could potentially be a "green board" a "smelly board" or a "Eurasian board" but it still wouldn't modify the way the subject and the verb interact.

To create an example that actually address the question, the subject must be "eight inches" or similar, as the "eight inches" are the constant that this problem addresses.

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@Derek ... That's pure nonsense since the question was out of context. Thus it was left to us here on the forum to try to place in some sort of context that makes sense. As you pointed it out, it was only a clause ... an out-of-context clause. If you can think of byspels with "8 inches" as the subject then you should be answering the question rather than trying to tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about.

I gave different examples of how "eight inches" with verbs around it could be used. If the person asking is an ESL learner, then he (or she) needs to see it some sort of context. ESL learners are often befuddled by why a board is eight inches but it is "an 8-inch board" and not "8-inches board". Could that not be the sense of the question if the learner is trying to add a verb to it? Or are you clairvoyant enough to read the asker's mind for me?

Did I not point out that the subject of the sentence was length? Now what on earth makes you or ing think that I do not know what I am talking about?

As Hairy pointed out, there seems be a difference between British and American usage here. That could be the source of confusion for the asker. I accept that. No problem. He made a contribution to answering the question. But you and ing are too busy trying to tell me that I don't know what the subject is instead of answering the question.

If I've made a typo, go ahead and point it out if that makes you feel good about yourself. I make lots of typos so you should be able to do that quite often. If you think I have the wrong perspective on a question, feel free to say something like, "I think the asker meant this ..." and then try answering the question yourself. I don't have a problem with a different perspective on the question, but don't tell me that my perspective is without basis and that yours is the only one.

If you have point on the question to make like Hairy, then show how it is different. But instead of answering the question yourself, you have the audacity to try to lecture me as if I don't know the subject of the byspel I used and rudely state, as if it is a given fact, that I'm not addressing the question while, at the same, you're not answering the question yourself. If you are just going to be silly and hypocritical, then I'm going to jump on you with both feet.

To other readers of this thread, I apologize for my rant ... It's been a long, frustrating day and perhaps I'm a little short on patience today.

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Wow, grammar nerds are lame. Have you considered not fighting with passive (if pedantic*) strangers on the internet? You need to check your priorities, Anwulf.

I'd suggest you don't jump down Derek's throat for a start. I appreciated his contribution, and can't see which part of his comment you construed as a personal attack (of all things).

Does someone need a nap?

*although I would say that pedantry is an admirable trait in somebody contributing to this forum.

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I don't think that group nouns (team, government, Facebook etc) are really relevant here. I'm British so I almost always treat them as plural - 'The government are introducing a new law', etc, as do most UK newspapers. But I'm well aware that the majority of Americans are uncomfortable with that. Vive la différence.

But distance is an altogether different kettle of fish. I can't imagine anyone, from either side of the Atlantic say 'the distance are' - it just ain't English.

The only context I could see 'are' being used is in 'There are 12 inches in a foot'. or in answer to a question like 'How many inches are there ...?' But in answer to the question as to the distance between two points, personally I'd say, 'It's eight inches', not 'There are eight inches'

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I agree, Will. The UK notion of group nouns is completely different from the general notion of uncountable / mass nouns.

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seriously? no dick jokes yet?

in all seriousness, though, it just depends on context.

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In most cases, the "eight inches" refers to a (singular) measurement, not eight individual inches. So I agree, there are twelve inches in a foot, but a foot is 12 inches in length.

Off the main topic, but I agree with the UK idea of group nouns, although I get plenty of flak about that here in the US. Although we DO usually use the UK form for sports teams -- often because the names themselves are plural (eg Yankees, Broncos, etc), but even when not (eg Utah Jazz), we usually treat it as plural.

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To answer the original question simply: it just depends on whether you intend '8 inches' to be seen as a whole, or as 8 separate individual inches. These 8 inches between you and I are the longest 8 inches ever! 8 inches is the closest anyone has come to winning.

Bob: I think the reason for that is that the name of the team is generally applied to each member (you can call the quarterback *a* Bronco) whereas the team (and the city as AnWulf mentioned) are considered a non-plural group of plural individuals. Not sure that I've seen or heard anyone treat Jazz and Heat the same way (and other singular sounding team names).

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