The Grammarphobia Blog

Is “whereabouts” singular or plural?

Q: I wonder if you could comment on this grammar question that keeps coming up at work. When we have clients who cannot be found, we document the record as follows: “The client’s whereabouts is unknown.” Is that correct or should we be saying, “The client’s whereabouts are unknown.” Does it depend upon the context? Could you help our team with this?

A: The noun “whereabouts” takes either a singular or a plural verb, so you could say “his whereabouts is unknown” or “his whereabouts are unknown.” Both are correct.

Considered from the standpoint of sense alone, the singular seems more correct to me, since the meaning of the word is something like “location.” The New York Times stylebook has long required that “whereabouts” be treated as singular.

But one’s ear sometimes disagrees. And Bryan A. Garner notes in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage that the plural verb is 10 times as common as the singular in printed sources. So I guess you could conclude that the plural verb is preferred by most writers.

If this provides any guidance at all, you’re welcome to it!