Is 'guts' singular or plural? Like, which is correct: "Guts are required for this" or "Guts is required for this"?


It could be singular or plural depending on the context. "Gut" and "guts" have several different meanings which could be used in the OP's sentence.

If "guts" means "the entrails of an animal, removed by a butcher" or "personal courage or determination" then it is plural - "Guts are required for this".

IF "gut" is a mass noun meaning "Fibre made from the intestines of animals, used especially for violin or racket strings or for surgical use." then like all mass nouns it is singular - "Gut is required for this."

Reference for meanings of "gut(s)" : https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gut #s 1.2, 3, and 4.

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    "guts" is never singular, though, is it? The singular form always uses "gut", not "guts". In the OP's example, "guts are required" is what I'd say. Might want to rephrase the first sentence to make it clear you're expanding the scope of the question, not answering specifically about "guts" as asked. Or make it explicit if you're saying "guts is" can be correct in some cases, with an example like some other answers and comments which are arguing for singular "guts". – Peter Cordes Sep 24 '18 at 1:03
  • @PeterCordes Correct; “guts” with an ‘s’ is always plural. Even in a phrase like “that zombie’s guts were everywhere”, “guts” is a plural collection of various arbitrary internal parts, albeit from a single zombie. On the other hand, “gut” usually specifically refers to the entire GI tract as a single unit (“an intense feeling in my gut”). I suppose technically you could say “that zombie’s gut was everywhere” but that’d be weirdly specific, nobody really says that. – Jason C Sep 24 '18 at 1:53
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    @JasonC: yeah, that's the usage I'm familiar with. (Native English speaker from Nova Scotia, Canada). I only commented to point out that this answer isn't clearly stating that "guts" is never singular, which is especially relevant because other answers and comments are giving odd-to-me sounding examples of "guts is". Maybe that's a regional usage thing. Anyway, like I said, the first sentence of this answer gives a wrong impression, because "it" is still referring to the OP's "guts", not the answer's "guts/gut" root word. – Peter Cordes Sep 24 '18 at 2:46

“Guts” is used widely used informally especially in British English to mean fortitude, courage or determination:

guts [plural]
informal the courage and determination you need to do something difficult or unpleasant

It takes guts to start a new business on your own.

have the guts (to do something)

No one had the guts to tell Paul what a mistake he was making.

Guts (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

The plural designation is also shown in the entries in Merriam-Webster, Collins, and Oxford Learner's dictionaries.

  • Yeah, but I think almost all native speakers (except grammatically-cowed "hypercorrectionists") would prefer singular Guts is what you need for this job over plural Guts are what you need for this job. Well, that's what I think off the top of my head anyway. Obviously I know which I prefer, but I might check out Google Books for the same syntactic issue with a more common "ambiguous plurality" noun... (Brains is what you need to solve a problem like this :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 23 '18 at 15:57
  • I really think you might just take a leap and say AmE too. I am being slightly sarcastic there.....:) :) And why even bother with anything other than plural? – Lambie Sep 23 '18 at 17:10

The cited use of guts is exactly paralleled by brains. We tend to think of the "idiomatic" senses (courage / intelligence) as only applying to the plural form, because we never use He has gut / brain to mean He's brave / clever.

But noting that many if not most native speakers would prefer Guts / brains is something he's never been short of, rather than ...are something..., I think it's reasonable to say that semantically, we think of the idiomatic plural usage as representing a singular quality / attribute.

It's almost meaningless to ask which version is "right", and Anglophones in general have a long history of ignoring pedants anyway (consider the data is vs the data are :). But unquestionably I personally would favour semantics over syntax in OP's case.

EDIT: Thanks to @Ronald Sole for the link to McMillan Dictionary..., wherein their example usage That’s what you need to be a referee – guts clearly uses a singular reference (that is what you need, not those are what you need).

It may not be directly relevant to OP's exact example, but when searching for relevant pronouncements on the usage, I came across this delightfully ambiguous example...

These animals have brains Semantics: A Reader (2004) - Page 420

...which could be literal - each of the animals actually does have at least some kind organ containing neurons. But it could also be figurative - some or all of them are [unusually] smart. And exactly the same ambiguity would apply with guts in that example (digestive organ / bravery).

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    What is most definitely wrong is: Guts is required for this. No one would say that.... – Lambie Sep 23 '18 at 17:11
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    Well, I say 'guts are needed for [whatever]' and I am definitely neither prescriptive nor syntax-cowed. – Michael Harvey Sep 23 '18 at 17:23
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    @FumbleFingers I'm definitely not cowed by anything as wimpy as syntax, but (in BrE) "Guts is what you need" just sounds plain wrong IMO. But who would use this convoluted word order at all in real life, in preference to "You need guts for this" ??? – alephzero Sep 23 '18 at 21:30
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    @FumbleFingers Try another example. "A pair of scissors is what you need" - fine, the noun is "pair" which (ironically, since it has a plural meaning!) is singular. But "Scissors is what you need" - really? Has anyone ever said that, in preference to "Scissors are what you need"? – alephzero Sep 23 '18 at 22:16
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    Google ngrams shows "guts are" as at least twice (and usually much more than twice) as common as "guts is" - except briefly around 1940, for some reason. books.google.com/ngrams/… – alephzero Sep 23 '18 at 22:18

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