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"Is" / "Are" Question

"Is" / "Are" Question

"Is" / "Are" Question

(OP)
I'm writing a paper and every time I read this line I change it from/to Is or Are. The sentence is:
  • Anaerobic bacteria are the primary agent ...
  • Anaerobic bacteria is the primary agent ...
I was about to change it to "Colonies of aerobic bacteria are the primary agent ..." and decided that was a cop out since I haven't talked about how many of these fuzzy little creatures make up a "colony", and the dictionary says that "bacteria" in common usage is either plural or singular (more and more people are rejecting the Latin "m/a" construct like "forum/fora" and "bacteria/bacterium").

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I would use whichever sounded best in the sentence. Here bacteria is the agent sounds better. You have an issue here with two subjects (to be can't take an object) of which one is plural and one is singular. The presciptivist rules say that either is or are can be used, but sometimes people argue that the first one stated (here plural) tense should be used.
I have an English degree and used to be very prescriptivist, but words are used descriptively. For instance data is plural, but it sounds pedantic in writing to use data are, so I use data is now. This comes up when talking about different survey datums. The proper word is survey data, but then it means something different in plain sense. Datums is not a "real" word, but it has to be used in this situation.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

zdas04,

I thought that bacterium was singular. In any case, you mean plural.

"Henrietta the anaerobic bacterium is the primary agent..."

--
JHG

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Yes it is the question of whether the word "bacteria" is singular or plural.
I believe the word "bacterium" is the singular so bacteria is plural...thus use "are".

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RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Bacteria is plural, so agent should be agents. Then 'are' works.

Ted

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I guess it is all in the way you think about bacteria, and your choice of is/are reveals that. The change in meaning is slight but there is a difference. I think of "anaerobic bacteria" as referring to the multiple species of bacteria so I prefer "are".

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

You are describing a class.

Classes take the plural.

Some flightless birds are emu, penguins and kiwi.

Red fruits are tastier than green fruits.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Yes, if it is only a single species of anaerobic bacteria, then I would use "is', but if a group of anaerobic bacteria then "are" seems more appropriate.

Andrew H.
www.mototribology.com

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I would vote for "bacteria are".

Probably because I do think of bacteria as countable units, from my high school biology days looking through microscopes...

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

(OP)
I whimped out and went with "Colonies of anaerobic bacteria are ..."

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Quote (zdas04)

I whimped out and went with "Colonies of anaerobic bacteria are ..."

There's still time to change it back and take a walk on the wild side! And then every time you read it you can have yourself a little chuckle lol

Andrew H.
www.mototribology.com

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

The flightless birds is not a good example because "birds" is clearly plural. How about:

The class is going on a field trip, or the class are going on a field trip.

The class of students is going on a field trip, or the class of students are going on a field trip.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Wouldn't the class be singular in that case? It's a single class of students.

That being said, and looking back at the original query, I would definitely say "is" would have been correct. It's a single particular group of bacteria as the subject.
Andrew H.
www.mototribology.com

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

You done good, David, you wimpy whimp.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

hokie66 - shouldn't that be "you done real good" smile

It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. (Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia.)

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

My vote is for 'bacteria are'. Groups take singular, 'the colony of bacteria is taking over the Petri dish in record time.' Plural groups are plural, 'Many herds of bison are currently roaming throughout the western plains.'

On a related tangent, I listen to a lot of audio books and recently came across The Awful German Language by Mark Twain. In one chapter he translates a German story into English using he, she, it or him, her, them in place of the masculine, feminine or neutral pronouns. The result is hysterical if you know any German, but probably still funny if you don't. At the end of the story you have no idea who did what.

If you are offended by the things I say, imagine the stuff I hold back.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I would take a non grammatical perspective on this one.
My guess is that one single "bacteria" is not going to be the primary agent for anything...meaning they need to be several of them for any noticeable effect to be triggered in physical/biological world (don't know the context subject here, be it corrosion, bio-fuel or whatsoever phenomenon, I am sure this is an observation that can be generalized). Thus I would use "are" because "bacteria" has to be in multitude to constitute a primary agent per se.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I'll chime in a bit late there and say:
are you discussing one (1) type of anaerobic bacterium or a number of different anaerobic bacteria: therein lies the problem - if it's one type it is "is" if more than one type it is "are".

I would be specific on this and rewrite: "a single Anaerobic bacterium is" or "multi Anaerobic bacteria are".

It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. (Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia.)

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

(OP)
The entire sentence is "Anaerobic bacteria [is/are] the primary agent in Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC), and every water source tested has shown the presence of many species of anaerobic bacteria." The version that I submitted for peer review says "Colonies of anaerobic bacteria are ..."

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I still say it should have just been "is" due to the singular subset of bacteria being discussed, but I suppose this is resembling a broken pencil now, pointless.

Andrew H.
www.mototribology.com

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

It's Yanny..I am positive it is Yanny.

If you are offended by the things I say, imagine the stuff I hold back.

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

•Anaerobic bacteria are the primary agent ...
•Anaerobic bacterium is the primary agent ...

There, I fixed it for you. Now they're both right!

f-d

ípapß gordo ainÆt no madre flaca!

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

(OP)
Except everyone I know pauses at the word "bacterium" and thinks "compass ass" and moves on. Some think "bacterium, is that something you find in a vomitorium?" and lose the point I'm trying to make.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

The problem could be avoided by making "agent" the subject:

"The primary agent in Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC) is Anaerobic bacteria, and every water source tested has shown the presence of many species of anaerobic bacteria."

BA

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

(OP)
BA,
That is brilliant. The paper has been submitted, but if it is ever accepted for publication I'll do that sentence your way.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

That really does not change anything, grammatically. It perhaps make the use of is "sound" better.

You have simply changed "anaerobic bacteria is the primary agent" to "the primary agent is anaerobic bacteria"

You could still argue that it should be "the primary agent(s) are anaerobic bacteria" or "the primary agent is anaerobic bacteria".

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I agree - the subject, verb and object should all agree.
One bacterium is a living thing; several (or many) bacteria are multiple living things.
One bacteria colony is a single entity; several bacteria colonies are multiple entities.

http://julianh72.blogspot.com

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

We were told earlier that the verb "to be" cannot take an object, but I tend to agree that the singular word "agent" does not agree with the plural word "bacteria". Perhaps if we substitute the word "cause" for "agent" we could avoid that problem. We would then have:

"The primary cause in Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC) is Anaerobic bacteria, and every water source tested has shown the presence of many species of anaerobic bacteria."

BA

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

The world started really going to crap when Latin was dropped from the HS curriculum.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts."

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

"The primary cause in Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC) is Anaerobic bacteria" ...
maybe should be "The primary cause in Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC) is the presence of Anaerobic bacteria" ? ... or too passive ?

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I would go with "colonies of..."

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Rephrase the statement to read "The primary agent IS anaerobic bacteria."

Then the is or are question is answered.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)


RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

or "Anaerobic bacteria are the primary agents"

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)


RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Hey, here's another opinion to throw into the works:

"...Bacteria are the primary agents..."
"...Bacteria is the primary agent..."

I'm not a vegetarian because I dislike meat... I'm a vegetarian because I HATE PLANTS!!

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

I are astounded by the variety of opinions.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts."

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Wow, this turned into quite the discussion !

Jerry J.
UGV5-NX11

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

"The primary cause of Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC) is the presence of Anaerobic bacteria, many species of which have been found in every water source tested."

BA

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

A good example of is/are was the Alfred Hitchcock movie of years ago "The Birds", in Australia it was actively advertised in the media etc. as "The Birds is coming" -surprisingly (or not a surprise) many people took the bait and jumped up and down claiming it should be The Birds are coming, took a lot to convince some people they were wrong.

It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. (Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia.)

RE: "Is" / "Are" Question

Is describes singular noun, are is for plural nouns

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