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The most effective means of control is immediate removal of pods from harvested plants, but this is not always possible at a time when other farm activities are at their peak, so one possible option is the use of cheap dryers. (The Guardian)

The most effective means of prevention are protection against contact with the disease-carrying mosquitoes and mosquito control. These include using insect repellents with substances such as DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide; also known as N,N'-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide or NNDB), icaridin (also known as picaridin and KBR3023), PMD (p-menthane-3,8-diol, a substance derived from the lemon eucalyptus tree), or IR3535. Wearing bite-proof long sleeves and trousers (pants) also offers protection. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chikungunya)

As a learner of the English language, I instinctively read "means" as if it were plural, but searching on Internet, and - obviously - selecting only reliable sources, I found both singular and plural usages.

Examples above are confusing, at least to me, because I'm not able to understand the reason why in the first case is used is while in the second one is used are.

Can anybody explain when we should use "means" in singular or in plural sense?

7

In the first example, the object contains to only one process; immediate removal of pods from harvested plants (even though pods is a multiple). Therefore, is is correct.

In the second example, the object contains more than one process; protection against contact with the disease-carrying mosquitoes and mosquito control. Its more than one, so are is correct.

  • 1
    In other words, this sense of means can be singular or plural, but the choice isn't arbitrary. Also note that means is always plural when it refers to resources or income. – snailboat Mar 22 '13 at 20:45
3

Means can be either singular or plural; you must determine which from context.

The most effective means of control is immediate removal of pods from harvested plants

"immediate removal of pods from harvested plants" is one thing, therefore you can determine from context that "means" is singular. The "means of control", or the "manner in which we control [x]", is "immediate removal of pods..."

In the second example, there are multiple means:

The most effective means of prevention are protection against contact with the disease-carrying mosquitoes and mosquito control.

The means of prevention are 1) protection against contact with the disease-carrying mosquitos and 2) mosquito control. The two most effective means of prevention, or ways to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, are 1) protecting people from mosquitos which already have diseases and 2) controlling the mosquito population. Since there are two means, it is plural, and are is used.

0

Means is one of those words that's plural but can be treated both as a plural and a singular. In your examples, you have a choice between are and is. You can have both a means or four means for communication.

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