© Nani, 2013
32. Should That Be Singular or Plural?
Plural nouns cause two major problems in formal writing. I. First, class- or group-nouns like "army," "audience," and "student body" are technically singular, even though they refer to a plurality of individuals. They should be treated as singular:
The Senate, as a rule, makes its opinion known to all.
The board has voted to fire and replace its Chair.
If the navy forces its way inside the harbor, it will overwhelm us.
"People" constitutes an exception to this rule. Although it is grammatically singular, it is treated as a plural: "The people of Italy elect officials to represent them." II.
The second problem is that some words called "non-count" nouns do not normally use a plural form: rain, weather, foliage, milk, courage, outer space, and many others. To pluralize non-count words it is necessary to add a word that signifies a unit or measurement of quantity.
Bad Example: "Different weathers affect various areas."
Good Example: "Different types of weather affect various areas."
Bad Example: "She drank three milks at lunch."
Good Example: "She drank three glasses of milk at lunch."
Bad Example: "Heavy rainfalls caused havoc across the valley."
Good Example: "Many inches of heavy rainfall caused havoc across the valley."
Note: This can very complicated when a non-count noun also has a verb form.
Bad Example: "Extensive rains created hazardous conditions throughout ancient Mesopotamia."
"Rains" here is used like a count noun, but it is actually a non-count noun—like "foliage" or "water." It describes a collection of individual things—in this case raindrops (which is a completely different noun)—as one singular, indivisible thing. Therefore it cannot be a plural. You can try saying the sentence with a different but equivalent noun to make the point more clear:
Example: "Extensive senates created hazardous conditions throughout ancient Mesopotamia."
Now the problem is clear: "senate" is a non-count noun and cannot be pluralized. It also does not have a verb form—there is no action “to senate ”—which makes the problem in this example easier to recognize.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.