8

Is it grammatically correct to say

High standards are a very good thing?

Or should it necessarily be ‘things’?

10

The verb must agree with the subject of the sentence, not the predicate nominative. In my AmE experience, the word "standards" isn't used as a collective noun. Therefore, the grammatical way to refer to high standards, as a whole, must be "high standards are."

The predicate nominative, which describes the subject, can be either singular or plural. So grammatically, both "a good thing" and "good things" are acceptable. However, there is a small difference between using "good things" or "a good thing":

High standards are a good thing.

This phrasing suggests that the high standards act more as a unit, and that the group (or presence of the group) is a good thing. Like mentioned in mplungjan's answer, an alternative group-based phrasing is "Having high standards is a good thing."

High standards are good things.

This treats each standard a bit more independently, perhaps suggesting that each of the standards should be counted or considered separately. This treats standards more like things that one could list, for example as used on a profile or résumé.

If all of this seems too particular, you could just settle with using a predicate adjective and say "High standards are good."

7

You can say it more idiomatically and avoid the problem

  • It is good to have high standards

If you must use “good thing” then try

  • It is a good thing to have high standards
  • Having high standards is a good thing
  • High standards are a good thing to have

Having high standards is an expression.

  • Yeah, I like this answer a lot more now. I might also suggest just "High standards are good" or "Having high standards is good". – Apologize and reinstate Monica Dec 4 '17 at 19:29
  • "High standards is a good thing to have" doesn't seem sound to me. Even if 'high standards' is being used as a singular group, "a" is improper in that last bullet-example. "Being held to a high standard" is another way out of the group/plural issue - though of course a group or individual can also be held to a group of high standards! – N. Presley Dec 5 '17 at 1:11
  • To elaborate: "It" and "is" in the first three bullets are all referring to an 'act of having', which is a singular item even if it 'contains' a plural. But opening the sentence with "High standards is" is problematic no matter what comes after. Many people would understand 'having' to be implied if you simplified it to "High standards is good." But that would technically be bad grammar. Again, shifting the focus works better to blur the line - for example, "High standards is/are good policy." - but the shorter/simpler the sentence, the more appropriate "are" becomes. – N. Presley Dec 5 '17 at 1:25
  • 1
    I too would say "high standards is a good thing to have" sounds more wrong than "high standards are a good thing to have" – Caius Jard Dec 5 '17 at 10:56
  • @CaiusJard You are correct. Updated – mplungjan Dec 5 '17 at 10:59
2

I've been analysing books on NGram, Google search, Grammar from Cambridge and Michael Swan all morning and here is what I have found:

"thing" as singular in case of high standards, high expectations, high rates, etc. forms an idea, a concept, or a goal (in some cases). "things" as plural in case of high standards, high expectations, high rates, etc. mentions each item of the union individually but as a part of a group. If you take "high standards" as an example then the plural will speak about every high standard as a separate piece of a whole, however, still rendering them as a part of a union, not as separate items.

Based on various searches of "are good things" and "are a good thing" the latter is mostly used with a single entity whereas the former is more often used with a list of more than one:

  • High Expectations are a good thing.
  • Vegetables and fruits are good things for your health.

However, this is simply the choice of the author since there is no strict rule.

As for using "is" instead of "are" with "high standards". It's possible (when you are rendering them as a mass noun) but I wouldn't recomend using it without a specific cause since standards is actually a plural noun.

I've also noticed that, indeed, "Having high standards/expecrations/rates/etc." is a very popular construction as some answers state here.

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