Common Errors In The Use Of Nouns And Noun Phrases

Expressions that take singular verbs

Some common expressions take singular verbs even though they may contain a plural noun.

Examples are: bacon and eggs; cheese and biscuits; fish and chips etc.

Nouns that do not have a plural form

Not all nouns have a plural form: for example, furniture, wheat, dust, news, advice, information, luggage, bread, trouble and scenery normally have only a singular form.

Pants and trousers

Pants means underclothes covering the upper part of the leg. Trousers means outer garment for the legs, reaching from waist to ankles.

Theatre, play and drama

A theatre is a building in which plays are acted, not the play itself. Drama is rarely used nowadays in the sense in which foreign students are likely to use it, that is to say to mean a play, whether acted by professionals or amateurs.

Man and gentleman

Gentleman is a difficult word to use correctly in colloquial English. Use the term when you are referring to a man’s character.

Use man to denote an adult of the male sex.

Lady and woman

Woman is the usual word to denote an adult of the female sex. It is quite polite. She is a lady means that she is a woman of particularly good birth, breeding and taste.


The word dress is generally used with reference to women’s attire.

But note that we do say ‘a man in full dress’ or ‘evening dress’.


The English language uses relatively loose terms to express relationships. Aunt means the sister of either father or mother. Uncle means the brother of either father or mother. Cousin means any child of any aunt or uncle.

A plural noun that names a single subject

When a group of words containing a plural noun represents a single subject, you must use a singular verb.

Collective nouns

Collective nouns take a singular verb if you are talking of the group as a whole. They take a plural verb if you are talking about individuals within the group.