singular (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The italicized nouns in this sentence are singular in form and meaning. In addition, the personal pronouns I, you, and it are singular in this sentence.


A grammatical category of number denoting one person, thing, or instance. Singular contrasts with plural in the description of nouns, pronouns, and verb forms.

The singular is the simplest form of a noun--the form that appears in a dictionary.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "only one"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The home of the Little family was a pleasant place near a park in New York City. In the mornings the sun streamed in through the east windows, and all the Littles were up early as a general rule."
    (E.B. White, Stuart Little. Harper, 1945)
  • "I'm not a thief, I'm a scavenger. Like the majestic vulture, the heroic tapeworm and America's sweetheart: the maggot."
    (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons)
  • "The number system applies primarily to nouns and NPs--with the number of an NP generally but not invariably matching that of its head noun. The system is relevant in four main areas of the grammar:
    i. Noun inflection: characteristically, plural nouns are morphologically marked (dog - s) while singular nouns are unmarked, identical with the lexical base (dog).
    ii. Agreement and selection within the NP: this dog vs these dogs (agreement), a dog but several dogs (selection).
    iii. Pronoun-antecedent agreement: My dog hid its bone vs My dogs hid their bones.
    iv. Subject-verb agreement: The dog likes her vs The dogs like her.
    (R. Huddleston and G. K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 2002)
  • Singular and Plural You
    "[I]n Modern English, it is not always clear whether you refers to one or more people. Different varieties of English have remedied the situation by introducing plural forms such as youse, you all, or you guys [see Second-Person Pronouns]. In the 18th century, the distinction was often made by using singular you with singular is (in the present tense and was (in the past tense); in the plural you appeared with the corresponding are and were. This practice was, however, soon condemned as a solecism--ungrammatical and improper--by the prescriptive grammarians of the period."
    (Terttu Nevalainen, "Mapping Change in Tudor English." The Oxford History of English, ed. by Lynda Mugglestone. Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • Noncount Nouns
    "Uncount nouns are sometimes described as singular because they take singular verbs. But this is misleading, since singular count nouns and uncount nouns do not share all the same determiners (e.g. a//one roll but some/much bread)."
    (Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1994)
  • Examples of Singular Nouns Ending in -s
    mathematics, billiards, kudos, measles, whereabouts

    "A noun . . . may 'look' singular, but refer to a multiplicity of entities (e.g. the committee are agreed, cf. collective), and nouns which 'look' plural may refer to a single entity (e.g. billiards)."
    (David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Blackwell, 2003)
  • The Lighter Side of the Singular
    "What a singular boy!" the Lord Chancellor whispered to himself: but Bruno had caught the words.

    "What do it mean to say 'a singular boy'?" he whispered to Sylvie.

    "It means one boy," Sylvie whispered in return. "And plural means two or three."

    "Then I’s welly glad I is a singular boy!” Bruno said with great emphasis. “It would be horrid to be two or three boys! P’raps they wouldn’t play with me!”
    (Lewis Carroll, Bruno and Sylvie Concluded, 1893)

    Patty O'Neill: I took my shoes off because my feet hurt.
    David Slater: Oh, you should never say your feet hurt.
    Patty O'Neill: Why not? They do.
    David Slater: "My foot, singular, hurts" is an intriguing statement. "My feet, plural, hurt" is a rather sordid admission.
    (Maggie McNamara and David Niven in The Moon Is Blue, 1953)

    Pronunciation: SIN-gyu-lerr