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.

  • There should be more doubt in your mind ;-). A vast number of 'people reading this' will be in North America and will have never faced that question, having never contemplated using the word 'maths'.
    – BobH
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 0:34

4 Answers 4


"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".

  • 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.) Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 3:52
  • 1
    I'll add that I believe it's the same in Canada (math).
    – user45266
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 5:14
  • @JasonBassford Useful - I have incorporated this into the last paragraph.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 10:00
  • 1
    @user45266 I'm Canadian, so I guess I should have been more detailed in my comment. ;) Commented Jan 31, 2019 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.


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").


To amplify what others have said, I think the first step in deciding whether to use "doesn't work" or "don't work" would be to substitute the word mathematics, and then ask yourself whether you as a UK speaker would find it more grammatical to say "the mathematics don't work" or "the mathematics doesn't work".

That still doesn't necessarily give you a definitive answer since you're referencing a discipline and a collection of tools that is named using a plural word, and you could probably find an argument either way since at this point it's getting a little abstract trying to pin down what exactly the subject of your sentence is. You might be able to frame it conceptually so as to fit into guidelines that suggest either one of the two forms.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .