Should I refer to the word "certain" as a plural or singular?

This is an example of the answer's sequences:

"Certain atoms make molecules."

"Certain atoms makes molecules."


Certain refers to an object that is

2: of a specific but unspecified character, quantity, or degree

that is, it is one (or more) of a group of things and the adjective must describe those things, which are plural. The verb must agree with that plural subject. Thus the sentence becomes:

Certain atoms make molecules.

As a chemistry teacher, I also have to point out that this sentence is incredibly vague in terms of its chemistry content. In the strictest sense it's true, I suppose, but all atoms other than helium and neon make true molecules under the right conditions. (Helium and neon can form polyatomic ions, excimers, and several molecule-like substances, but no stable ground state molecules, yet.)

  • The "atom" instead of atoms is a typo. I edited it. Mar 15 '16 at 1:21
  • I can assume that you as a chemistry teacher agree that a molecule is made of two atoms at least. But I'd like to use the opposite way to say it. It says, instead of talking about molecule>atoms, I'd like to use atoms > molecule. Mar 15 '16 at 1:27
  • @Assiduous Sure, that's definitely true. To be clear, you're saying that instead of something like "Molecules are made of a collection of atoms." you want to say "Atoms can bond/combine to make molecules." In that sense your sentence, as written, is entirely correct; it's just quite broad. That may be your intent though. :-) Mar 15 '16 at 2:30
  • 1
    Well, it's not wrong, I can tell you that much. It's entirely possible that it could be improved stylistically, but the sentence does make sense and fits with the idea you're going for. Mar 16 '16 at 1:06
  • 1
    As I said before, without knowing the full context of this sentence/paragraph it's difficult to say much about it. I trust that you know what you're trying to write and will do so appropriately. :-) Mar 18 '16 at 0:12

This question is a bit ambiguous; is the phrase certain atom meant to be replaced with the name of an atom? Or is it missing a preceding indefinite article ("a")?

Either way, this is a matter of verb conjugation, i.e. making the verb agree with the subject. In this case: I make, you make, he/she/it makes, we make, they make

Since the atom is the subject and it is singular, "atom" will take the "it" form of the verb, and hence become Certain atom makes.

However, if you want to structure the sentence like this:

A helium atom [...]

then it would be best to use the future tense:

A helium atom will make [...]

  • There was a typo there. and it should be "certain atoms make/s molecule" instead of "certain atom make molecule" Mar 15 '16 at 1:30
  • OK, then you would use the "they" form of "make"; hence, Certain atoms (will) make molecules.
    – Dog Lover
    Mar 15 '16 at 1:47

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.