‘Icky’ Words — Politics, Ethics, Optics — and Their Verbs

www.RuthlessEditor.comYou’d have a hard time finding a news report these days that doesn’t include the word politics. Ethics and optics often aren’t far behind.

But which is correct:

Politics are in the news every day.

Politics is in the news every day.

Here’s how you determine whether to use the singular verb is or the plural form are with politics and other ics words.


If you’re speaking of politics as a set of political beliefs, it’s plural:

Her politics are (not is) inconsistent with my values.

If you’re speaking of politics in general, it’s singular:

Politics is (not are) not a good topic for dinner-party conversations.


The same guideline applies to ethics. If you’re speaking of ethics as a set of beliefs or practices, it’s plural:

Our company’s business ethics have (not has) improved under our new owner.

If you are speaking of ethics in general, it’s singular:

Ethics is (not are) a field no business professional should ignore.


Optics follows the same principle; it takes a singular verb when referred to in general:

Optics is (not are) defined as a branch of physics dealing with the nature and properties of light and vision.

But when you use optics in a political context to talk about how an event or action is perceived by the public, it’s plural:

The optics of the situation are (not is) not favorable to the governor.

Areas of academic study

The same is true of other areas of academic interest: mathematics, economics and statistics. When you refer to one of them as a field of study, use a singular verb:

Mathematics was (not were) his major when he started college.

He now has decided that economics is (not are) more to his liking.

Statistics is (not are) a course many students dread.

Check your emotions and your verbs

Emotions can run high when talking about politics, ethics and optics. If you’re engaged in a heated discussion, it’s possible that no one will notice your grammar — in this case, which verb you use.

But if you want to stay ahead of your detractors, stay cool and at least try to choose the right verb. Don’t give them another reason to criticize you.

Have friends, colleagues or clients who might appreciate these tips? Please share with them and on social media.

And know that I always welcome your questions and comments, either below or at this email address:


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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)