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I always say "mathematics is funny" (ok, maybe many of you disagree about the adjective), but then I noticed that "mathematics" seems to be a plural, like the Greek word from which it derives.

Am I correct in using the verb in singular form?
And are there other words like this one?

  • Words that end in "s" in their singular form are the same in plural: series, species. – JMB Mar 3 '15 at 13:00
  • It is singular. – user6951 Mar 3 '15 at 17:52
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Whilst a dictionary search shows that the word is singular but plural in form, it is most commonly used (in my experience) with a verb in singular form.

Math(ematic)s is my least favourite subject.

Math(ematic)s is really hard.

This Ngram viewer helps: enter image description here

Link to Ngram

EDIT: As @Araucaria points out, the "mathematics are" examples in the Ngram above are not really relevant. See his comment below.

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    Many dictionaries will describe it as (singular; plural in form). Note that it's mathematics everywhere, but maths in BrE and math in AmE. In both cases, however, it's correctly and usually math is fun and maths is fun. – Jim Reynolds Mar 3 '15 at 12:52
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    Yeah. My use of brackets was not so clear on the different branches of the word. Good comment. Thanks for that. – JMB Mar 3 '15 at 12:58
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    @JMB EDIT!: In fact it's only used with a SINGULAR verb form. The examples from Ngram of mathematics are are things like "The objects which constitute the subject-matter of mathematics are entities"! :) – Araucaria Mar 3 '15 at 15:07
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Mathematics is, as Jim Reynolds said, singular despite being plural in form. There are various other words like it, including many other words ending in -ics such as physics,dynamics, ethics, linguistics, metaphysics, optics, economics. The Oxford English dictionary summarizes the situation for words with this suffix as follows:

The names of sciences, even though they have the form in -ics, are now construed as singular, as in ‘mathematics is the science of quantity; its students are mathematicians’; in recent times some writers, following German or French usage, have preferred to use a form in -ic, as in dialectic, dogmatic, ethic, metaphysic, static, etc. Names of practical matters as gymnastics, politics, tactics, usually remain plural, in construction as well as in form.

There may be some variation for some of these words. Personally, I agree with the OED about politics are and tactics are, but I think I would be inclined to say gymnastics is (when referring to the discipline; I would use the plural in a phrase like "her verbal gymnastics are not appreciated"). Gymnastics are and gymnastics is seem to be fairly close in frequency on the Google Ngram Viewer.

  • It is perhaps worth noting that the ethics referees to here is specifically the branch of philosophy. The more common senses of the word normally take plural verbs (“My ethics do not align with his”, etc.). Then again, I find plural verbs with -ics words quite natural when not referring to the scientific field as a singular entity. Id obviously say, “physics is my favourite class” (as if!), but I’d be perfectly happy with “the physics involved in this transformation are not yet fully understood”. I suppose this use approaches the realm of ‘practical matters’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 8 '18 at 23:07

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