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Is vs. Are: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 28, 2024
"Is" is used with singular subjects, while "are" is used with plural subjects.

Key Differences

Is and are are both forms of the verb "to be," used in different grammatical contexts. Is is singular, for a single subject, while are is plural, for multiple subjects. For instance, "The cat is sleeping" versus "The cats are sleeping."
In terms of usage, is often denotes a state or condition for a singular noun or pronoun, as in "He is happy." Conversely, are is used similarly but for plural nouns or pronouns, like in "They are excited."
The choice between is and are can also indicate the number of a subject; is for singular (one), and are for plural (more than one). For example, "This is a book" versus "These are books."
In questions, is and are take the beginning position but still follow the singular/plural rule. "Is it ready?" versus "Are they ready?"
In contractions, is and are change form. Is becomes 's as in "She's here," while are becomes 're as in "They're here."

Comparison Chart

Subject Agreement

Matches with singular subjects.
Matches with plural subjects.

Example Nouns

Cat, book, apple.
Cats, books, apples.

Example Pronouns

He, she, it.
They, we.

In Questions

"Is this yours?"
"Are these yours?"


She's, he's.
They're, we're.

Use in Present Tense

Describes current state for one.
Describes current state for many.

Is and Are Definitions


Indicates existence or a state for a singular subject.
The sky is blue.


Indicates existence or a state for plural subjects.
The flowers are beautiful.


Serves as a linking verb to a complement.
He is a teacher.


Expresses a location for multiple items or people.
The keys are on the counter.


Describes a singular subject's current action.
She is singing.


Acts as a linking verb to a complement in plural.
They are engineers.


Expresses a location for one item or person.
The book is on the table.


Describes plural subjects' current actions.
The birds are flying.


Indicates time or date in singular terms.
It is 5 o'clock.


Indicates time or date in a general sense.
Are the holidays soon?


Third person singular present indicative of be.


Second person singular and plural and first and third person plural present indicative of be.


Used in phrases with existential there when the semantic subject is a third-person plural.
There is three of them there.


(Geordie) me.


(rare) i's.


The third person singular of the substantive verb be, in the indicative mood, present tense; as, he is; he is a man. See Be.
For thy is I come, and eke Alain.
Aye is thou merry.
To-morrow is the new moon.


When do I use "is"?

Use "is" with singular nouns and pronouns (he, she, it).

Can "is" be used for plural subjects?

No, "is" is only for singular subjects.

What are some examples of "is" in sentences?

"The car is new," "She is a doctor."

Can I use "is" with uncountable nouns?

Yes, like "Water is essential."

Can you give examples of "are" in sentences?

"The flowers are blooming," "They are students."

How is a question formed with "are"?

Begin with "are": "Are they coming?"

When should I use "are"?

Use "are" with plural nouns and pronouns (they, we).

Can "are" describe temporary states?

Yes, e.g., "They are being noisy."

How do I form a question with "is"?

Place "is" at the beginning: "Is this your book?"

Is "are" ever used with singular nouns?

No, "are" is specifically for plural nouns.

How does context affect the use of "is" and "are"?

The number of the subject (singular or plural) dictates the use.

Can "are" be used with collective nouns?

Yes, if the collective noun is considered plural.

What's the contraction form of "is"?

"Is" becomes 's, as in "She's here."

Can "is" and "are" be omitted in informal speech?

Sometimes, especially in casual or informal contexts.

What's the contraction for "are"?

"Are" becomes 're, like in "They're here."

What is the past tense of "are"?

"Were" is the past tense form of "are."

Are there exceptions to these rules?

English has exceptions, but these rules generally hold.

Can "is" and "are" indicate possession?

No, they indicate states or existence, not possession.

Can "is" describe a permanent state?

Yes, like "He is tall."

Is "is" used in past tense?

No, "was" is used for past tense singular.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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