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Grammar Guy:

Curtis Honeycutt

You’ve heard about the three conversation topics to avoid in polite company — money, religion and politics. But what about these taboo subjects as they relate to grammar?

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” What I want to know is: is all politics singular or plural?

It depends.

Politics is/are a noun that can either be used with a singular or plural verb. Like a tie-breaking legislative vote, politics can go either way. The following rules we discuss for politics can be applied to any of the -ics family of academic words: mathematics, ethics, optics, economics, physics, et. al.

Most of the time, politics is used as a singular noun. Here are a few examples: One of my least favorite things to talk about is politics, especially with my family. Talking politics makes Thanksgiving dinner uncomfortable and awkward for most families. Politics is a dirty business.

Politics can, however, be plural when referring to a specific set of beliefs. Here are some examples: Uncle Lance’s politics are bonkers, especially after he knocks back a few boxes of wine. My politics have evolved in a particular direction over the years, but I’ll try to keep them to myself. Do you believe how mainstream her politics are? She’ll never make it through the primaries in this political climate.

Whether politics is singular or plural, conservative or liberal, one thing’s for sure: American politics is a tricky subject to navigate these days.

My solution? Embrace honest, respectful conversations about your similarities and differences. You’re likely to realize you have more in common than you think you do.

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Curtis Honeycutt is a nationally award-winning syndicated humor writer. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.

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