In the dictionary, when you’re looking up a noun that ends in s, you’re apt to find a notation like this: “noun plural but singular in construction.” What does that mean?
This description refers to words like news that appear to be plural but take a singular verb (hence the word construction, meaning “sentence structure,” not “appearance”). One category of words plural in appearance but singular in use is that of intellectual pursuits and their associated academic disciplines: For mathematics, physics, and the like, we use a singular verb: “Mathematics is difficult for him”; “The physics is staggeringly complex.” However, similar terms may use singular or plural verbs depending on the sense: “Statistics is not my favorite subject”; “The statistics are valid.”
In other contexts, usage varies. Gymnastics is treated singularly (“Gymnastics is an Olympic sport”), but calisthenics takes a plural verb (“Calisthenics are boring”). Both words refer to a routine of physical activities, but noun-verb agreement is inconsistent.
Some words that are plural but refer to a unified pair of objects, such as(eye)glasses, pants, and scissors, are nevertheless associated with plural verbs: “My glasses are missing”; “These pants have gotten too tight”; “The scissors are dull.”
Reference Site: Daily Writing Tips
- Plural But Singular in Construction (dailywritingtips.com)
- Phrase and Exact Match Changes (epiphanysearch.co.uk)
- Don Ferguson’s Grammar Gremlins: Proximity dictates verb form (knoxnews.com)