© 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."

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.


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