There's no doubt in my mind that most people reading this will have been faced with this most tedious question: should I use maths as a singular/plural noun in the following sentence?

[random mathematical equation featuring multiple sums]...And yes, we're aware the maths don't work.

I understand that 'don't' is used when speaking in both the first/second person plural/singular and the third person plural (I, you, we, and they), and that 'doesn't' is reserved for the third person singular (he, she, and it); the way I see it, 'maths' functions as a singular noun in this sentence, if only for the reason that you'd refer to 'maths' as an 'it', not a 'they'.

I also reference the phrase 'the maths doesn't add up' as a point of comparison.

Doesn't = third person singular. If maths is plural in form, why is it so often used as if singular? E.g. 'maths is my favourite subject). 'Is' is singular?

Also, disclaimer: I'm from the UK.


"Maths" is short for mathematics in British English (BrEng). British schoolchildren attend "maths" lessons, and we would idiomatically say "do the maths". American English (AmE) and Canadian English (CaE) speakers say "math".

Because both the British "maths" and American "math" are abbreviations for the same thing - mathematics, they should not be considered as the singular or plural form of the same word. As the word both substitute for is itself plural, speakers of both forms of English should always use "doesn't" rather than "don't".

I have to say that I don't think either "the maths don't work" or "the maths doesn't add up" are grammatically correct, or logical. Firstly, maths always works. If you do a mathematical equation and the answer is wrong, you did something wrong. You don't get many sciences more exact than mathematics. Secondly, mathematics is the name of the science of numbers, so it doesn't "add up" any more than biology does. Numbers add up, using maths. However, if the phrase "the maths doesn't work" is used in your country or region then it may be idiomatic and acceptable to use in context.

Personally, the idiomatic phrase I would use would be "the numbers don't add up" which implies that the numbers must be wrong if the applied mathematics do not produce the correct or expected result. If I wanted to show that the formula was incorrect I might say "there is something wrong with the maths". A sentence that both states you have used mathematics but the numbers are wrong would be "I have done the maths and these numbers do not add up".

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    And, in reverse, I don't think US English speakers ever say maths in any context—it's always singular. This is one clear-cut example of a regional difference where there isn't one way that's just less uncommon—but where one way is simply wrong, idiomatically. (From the US perspective, we're aware the math doesn't work sounds perfectly normal.) – Jason Bassford Jan 31 '19 at 3:52
  • 1
    I'll add that I believe it's the same in Canada (math). – user45266 Jan 31 '19 at 5:14
  • @JasonBassford Useful - I have incorporated this into the last paragraph. – Astralbee Jan 31 '19 at 10:00
  • 1
    @user45266 I'm Canadian, so I guess I should have been more detailed in my comment. ;) – Jason Bassford Jan 31 '19 at 13:37

I think 'maths' is actually a contraction, not a plural word. mathematics = math's. The apostrophe = ematic. That is math - ematic + s = maths.

Anywhere you can use mathematics, you can use maths.

| improve this answer | |

maths or mathematics can each be either singular or plural, depending on the context. See: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/mathematics If you're talking about "mathematical procedures, operations, or properties" (second definition) then you could use the plural form of a verb with it. On the other hand - maths and several other words that sound like plural nouns can function as singular nouns. For instance, "the bends", meaning "decompression sickness", can be used with either a plural or singular verb form (e.g. "The bends is a terrible thing to experience").

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.