There are times when you don't know how much of something there'll be. There can be

  • only one of that thing, OR
  • many of that thing.

The number isn't fixed. For example:

The officer/officers who had a hand in this robbery has/have not been found out yet. Police investigation is ongoing.

The student/students, a teacher is going to assist, attend/attends the ceremony with that teacher.

  1. Writing like this can be strenuous and time-consuming. Is there a standard way to deal with this?

  2. And moreover, there's also the trouble with the verb that directly follows it. What should the be verb be — singular or plural? Note that I've avoided this issue in my examples.

Note: I don't know exactly what tags to use. If you edit, please add some explanation as to why you chose or removed a particular tag (...or tags).

  • It won't do in prose, but in simple descriptive writing, letters, or journalism, a standard usage is (s); e.g., "The student(s) a teacher is going to assist must attend the ceremony with that teacher." Jul 15, 2017 at 22:34
  • @P.E.Dant The question has been updated. Jul 15, 2017 at 22:38
  • Be is not used in the first example except to form the passive of find. In the second, the verb taken by student/students is attend, not be. In neither example does the form of be (nor any verb) depend upon the number of the noun in question! (If the sentence were "The officer/officers is/are busy", you would have a problem, though.) Jul 15, 2017 at 22:49
  • A useful answer depends upon the intended purpose of the writing. Just as with (s), there's nothing wrong with is/are in informal writing or even in journalism. In prose, though, you would have to rephrase the sentence to accommodate the uncertainty. "Any of the officers who were implicated in this robbery...", for instance. (Apologies to user3169.) Jul 15, 2017 at 22:58
  • @P.E.Dant I've tried to avoid the issue in my examples. Jul 15, 2017 at 23:24

1 Answer 1


Since the quantity is not known yet, I would look for different determiners to use:

Those officers who had a hand in this robbery haven't been found out yet. The police investigation is ongoing.
Any students a teacher is going to assist must attend the ceremony with that teacher.

  • 2
    Rather than "articles", you sould have said "determiners", since the term "article" is restricted to a small group: the, a/n, and the zero article. Anyway, I liked your answer, which shows that, combined with some indefinite determiner, the plural will include the possibility of something being singular.
    – Gustavson
    Jul 15, 2017 at 23:05
  • 1
    @Gustavson You are right. I edited my answer.
    – user3169
    Jul 16, 2017 at 0:16

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