The use of “has” or “have” is one of those verbal conjugations that can confuse English speakers. There are up to a dozen “rules” surrounding their use, but before we start to panic, let’s reduce the rules to their simplest form, using one example: do we use “the country has” or “the country have”?
“The country has” is the correct form in this case because we generally treat collective nouns as singular, and we refer to “country” as an “it” in the third person. The third-person singular refers to anyone or anything but the speaker/writer or the addressee. Grammatically, we refer to this as subject-verb agreement.
In this article, we will explore using the collective noun “country” while maintaining proper subject-verb agreement with “has” and “have.” Collective nouns can be trickier than you might think since American and British English actually treat them differently.
Has or Have for a Country?
The main question hinges around whether we regard a country as a singular entity or as a multitude of individuals.
“Country” is generally a countable collective noun that we use to refer to a nation as representative of its population. For more on the difference between a country and a nation, make sure you read our article on this topic.
Some collective nouns can take a singular or plural verb form, depending on the writer’s intention and whether they’re addressing an American or British audience. For example, British English often treats collective nouns as plural, while American English almost always treats them as singular (source).
In American English, you will almost always see “country has” instead of “country have” since American English treats collective nouns as singular, and “has” is the present tense third-person singular form of “have.”
The verb “to have,” meaning to possess or hold something, often functions as an auxiliary (or helping) verb when attached to a main verb (source).
We generally use terms like “first,” “second,” or “third” person to refer to personal pronouns, but we also use the third person when we refer to someone or something by name.
|1st person: I, we||I have||We have|
|2nd person: you, you (all)||You have||You (all) have|
|3rd person: he, she, it, they||He/she/it has||They have|
You will notice that the only subject to take the word “has” is the third person singular — “he has,” “she has,” “it has.” In contrast, every other subject uses the verb “have.”
A country is a thing, so we can use the third-person pronoun “it” to stand in its place when necessary. Similarly, when we speak of plural “countries,” we can use “they.”
Which Is Correct: India Has or India Have?
Confusion also arises when we substitute the common noun “country” with a proper noun representing the name of an actual country, like India. American English will generally consider “India” as singular, but British English is different.
British English speakers are more likely to think of the people of a country and view India as “they” — hence, “they have.”
- American English: India has the second-highest population in the world.
- British English: India have scored 312 runs in their first innings.
As with many issues in English, correctness will depend on what dialect of English your audience expects.
Every Country Has or Have Problems
We hope that, by now, it is becoming clear that “country has” (singular) and “countries have” (plural) is the correct usage. We agree, then, that the subject/verb agreement rule is straightforward with singular and plural common nouns (source).
When we use the determiner “every” to refer to “every country,” we refer to each country without exception (source). Thus, even though we refer to more than one country, we say, “Every country has problems” because it refers to each country individually.
- Every country has many economic problems.
In contrast, for the plural “countries,” we cannot use “every” since it refers to the individual parts of a group. So instead, we would use the determiner “all” for the total number in a group.
- All countries have many economic problems.
With Coordinating Conjunctions and Compound Subjects
However, some collective nouns sometimes trip up the unsuspecting speaker or writer, especially when it comes to coordinating conjunctions and compound subjects (source).
- The majority of countries think that this is the right decision. (not thinks)
It might be tempting to think that the collective noun “majority” is the singular subject of the sentence and that we should treat it the same as saying, for example:
- The committee thinks that this is the right decision.
While it is true that “majority” and “committee” are singular, “majority of countries” is a compound subject formed by the use of the coordinating conjunction “of.” In this case, the closest noun to the verb — “countries” — will indicate we need the plural form of the verb: “countries think.”
Here’s another example:
- A large number of voters still vote for the popular candidate.
The subject of the sentence is the compound “number of voters.” Although “number” is a singular collective noun, the sentence takes a plural verb “vote” because of its proximity to the plural noun “voters.”
Has or Have With “State”
When naming a specific country as the subject of a sentence, we should almost always treat it as a singular subject:
- The United States has one of the world’s leading economies.
- The United Kingdom has long-standing institutions.
Even though “states” is normally plural, we refer to the United States as one entity and one country, taking a singular verb.
We would also refer to any individual state in the United States as a singular noun while referring to two or more states as plural.
- Massachusetts has greatly impacted American history.
- South Carolina and Florida have warm climates.
However, we use the plural verb form when specifically referring to the inhabitants of a state.
- The inhabitants of Massachusetts have a strong work ethic.
- Three Texans have died in winter storms.
Choosing the Word Has or Have
Proper English grammar requires that you understand which form of the verb goes with each type of subject. This also means that you need to correctly identify the subject of a sentence and know whether the subject is singular or plural.
“Has” and “have” are conjugations of the verb “to have” in the present tense. “Conjugating” a verb refers to how a verb changes its form — which we call inflection — to show a different person, tense, number, or mood.
A similar inflection happens with nouns and adjectives when they change their form, but we refer to this change in the noun or adjective form as declension (source).
There are six different “persons” in English, which we demonstrated in Table 1 at the beginning: first person singular (I) and plural (we); second-person singular and plural (you); and third-person singular (he, she, it) and plural (they).
Most verbs, including the verb “to have,” follow a regular pattern with little change for person, tense, and number, but as with all things English, there are always exceptions!
Verbs are action words, and verb tense tells us when the action in a sentence is happening. In other words, they tell us whether the action is in the present, future, or past. There are 12 tenses in English, and “to have” changes its form to indicate each of these tenses.
As the subject of a sentence, a noun may be singular (one) or plural (many). We refer to singular and plural as the “number” of the noun — one or more. Like many other verbs, “have” changes its form according to whether the sentence’s subject is singular or plural. For example:
- Singular: The country has a colorful national flag.
- Plural: Countries have many different colors on their national flags.
This distinction between the singular and plural application of the verb “to have” is key to understanding whether you should use “has” or “have” with “country.”
English has three “moods” that are forms of the verb to express modality — using language to discuss possible situations, such as real or unreal, certain or possible, wished or demanded. English has indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods, but their function has no bearing on our discussion here.
Let’s go back to our discussion of number — singular and plural, one or more — that we said was key to understanding the use of the word “has” or “have” for a country.
We hinted earlier that some confusion may arise from the collective nature of some words and whether we should treat these words as singular or plural. Examples of such words are “team,” “group,” “crowd,” “population,” and so on. For example, which of the following is correct?
- Liverpool have an away match against Manchester United on Saturday.
- Liverpool has an away match against Manchester United on Saturday.
If you’re typing these two sentences on a word processor, the spelling and grammar checker will tell you that the first sentence is wrong and the second is correct. This is because there is no agreement between the subject “Liverpool” and the verb “have.” But insert the word “players” after Liverpool, and the situation clearly reverses:
- Liverpool players have an away match. (✔︎)
- Liverpool players has an away match. (❌)
This is because “Liverpool” is a collective noun, and we usually treat collective nouns as singular in American English, so the verb is singular, following the rule for the third-person perspective.
But as soon as we insert the obviously plural word “players” as the subject of the sentence, the verb form switches to the plural use of “have.”
Remember our earlier mention of the difference between American and British English treatment of the collective noun. British English often treats collective nouns as plural, while American English almost always treats them as singular. Just be careful to be consistent with the number here, though.
A native English speaker’s ear is attuned to these changes of form, and the more you read, speak, and hear the language, the sooner your ear for the language will be in tune with what sounds right.
FFor more assistance on understanding subject/verb agreement, see the related article “Here Is or Here Are: Understanding Subject-Verb Agreement.”
Plural Forms of Nouns
Watch out for nouns that look like plurals but that we actually treat as singular. This applies to words such as in some fields of study (e.g., physics, mathematics, economics), some games (e.g., darts, billiards, marbles), and some diseases (e.g., measles, mumps, rabies). There are also words such as “statistics” that could be singular:
- Statistics has been added as a course of study for my degree.
In other cases, it can be plural:
- The COVID-19 statistics have increased alarmingly.
Also, watch out that you identify the subject of a sentence correctly, as in the following examples:
- Those pants have a hole in them.
However, we could also say:
- That pair of pants has a hole in the leg.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
The word pants — plural, there is no singular “pant” — takes the plural verb form “have.” But with “pair of pants,” the subject is “pair,” which is singular and takes the singular verb form “has.” It is the same for words such as scissors, pliers, and glasses. They all take a plural verb form, despite being part of a compound subject.
The number — singular or plural — of the subject of a sentence determines the form of the verb it takes. This is the rule grammarians refer to as subject-verb agreement.
In American English, we usually regard a country or state as a singular entity, and a singular verb form follows it. This general rule remains true even when we name a specific country. The correct form is, therefore, “a country has” and “countries have.”