What is/are in the bag?

If I know there are a few things in the bag, should I ask “What is in the bag?” OR “What are in the bag?”



I would say: ‘What’s in the bag?’ I don’t know why.


Thank you, Kohyoongliat.

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However, what can be followed by a plural verb, as in:

  • What are your grievances? What are your interests?

“What is in the bag?” You are asking about the contents as a whole, as a group of things.
“How many things are in the bag?” Here you are talking about counting things.
There is nothing in the bag.
There are 3 things in the bag.
Three things are in the bag.


I believe that even if I know there are a few people present, I should ask the question, “Who is at the door?” This is similar to “What is in the bag?” Am I correct?


Yes, you are correct. I don’t know why, but you are.

I do know why now. I’ve looked it up in Michael Swan, who graduated from the University of Oxord and is writer of English language teaching. I believe he also writes for the BBC website. So, here it is:

  • Who is at the door? is correct and similar to What is in the bag? He says: when and who are used to ask for the subject of a clause and they often have singular verbs, even if the question expects a plural answer.

I strongly recommend Michael Swan; he gives very useful information. I’ve used it a lot of times.
Hope this helps and have a nice day.


I have one of his books, Oxford English Grammar Course.

One of my students gave it to me before she moved. I don’t know if she used to while learning English, or if she used it teaching English.

I haven’t had much chance to look through it. So I don’t have an opinion on it. Although my view for learning just about anything is to use multiple sources.

My first student was using the books by DK. The library also has a large collection of DK books, along with some others.

I have a Writer’s Digest book that I like. It’s more of a reference book than a book for learning the language.

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Hi Dan,

I have Practical English Usage of Michael Swan and I agree that you should use multiple books and dictionaries. By the way, who is DK?

DK is a British book publisher. They publish a series of books called English for Everyone.

Wikipedia article

The books

The audio
Most lessons in the book have associated audio at the web site. You do not need to own the book or have an account to use the audio.

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Thanks Dan, I’ll have a look at it. But I don’t teach any more. I got fed up with it and I even had a serious breakdown a few years ago. I’ll probably never recover completely from it.