Learn English – Sports – singular or plural


I am being told that "sports" is a singular noun. This is creating a problem for me (as a teacher) because it sounds 'odd' even if it is correct (i.e. one of the exceptions to the rule).

e.g. Sports has (rather than sports have)…

I always thought sports referred to more than one team activity (e.g. football, rugby, golf, bowls etc.); hence, it was plural.

For example,

  • I like playing sports.
  • Sports have always been of interest to me.


  1. Is sports a collective noun?
  2. Which usage is correct?

Best Answer

"sports" is a singular noun. This is creating a problem for me (as a teacher) because it sounds 'odd' even if it is correct (i.e. one of the exceptions to the rule).

I am a teacher, too, and I remember that when I was a student, I was baffled by what seemed a more 'odd' use and that is of sports as an adjective: "sports car"

But you can overcome your difficulty if you think of many words (like economics = economic activity/-ies) that are plural in appearance and nevertheless are treated as singular.

The only (slight) difference is that sports can be treated both as singular and plural: the plural usage is obvious, to justify the singular usage think that (like economics) it really means: sporting activity/ies

You can find a clear definition here:


    1. a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other

"Ice-skating with friends is my favorite sport."

    1. sports in general
    1. a physical activity (such as hunting, fishing, running, swimming, etc.) that is done for enjoyment

So, you use the singular for one type of 'sport' and the plural for 2 or more;

"Football, basketball, and hockey are all team sports, 'I enjoy winter sports like skiing and skating.'"

but you can use indifferently the singular or the plural form to indicate the 'physical activity':

"I used to do a lot of sport when I was younger." You can see here that both forms are used for the same sentence:

Sport (or sports) is all forms of usually competitive physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills.

You can find more examples on the web:

...“sports” as singular when it refers to a general field of activity or interest. He would say “sports is my chief interest, next to grammar,” because he is not thinking of different individual sports but about the field of athletics in general. Fry was referring to sports in general as a field of coverage, and, as Buck sees it, was right to use the singular.

But when sports refers to a number of individual activities, it becomes plural. So Buck would say, “my favorite sports are baseball, football and bronc-riding.”

In conclusion, it is no exception to any rule, if 'sports is' sounds weird to you you can use the singular form in most contexts.

Note 1.: writing this post I realize that 'sports' used as an adjective can refer to both forms of the word: sports car, and sports column.

Note 2.: besides being an adjective, on its own sports is a singular noun when it is an elliptical form of:

  • [a] sports [car]
  • [the] sports [column]

Source: Oxford Dictionary