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  1. #1
    AlJapone's Avatar
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    Default Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Dear Teachers,

    While surfing around the web, I came across two noun phrases below:

    dogs who put their head out the window
    dogs who are permitted off their leashes

    And I feel the words, head and leashes, are appropriately used in the singular and the plural respectively. But when I alter the noun phrases a little as shown below, somewhat to my own surprise, I find heads and leash more natural sounding to me.

    dogs who poked their heads through the half opened door.
    dogs who snap off their leash

    I myself do not know why I feel this way nor if they are grammatically correct.
    Please give me some explanation and rules for deciding which, the singular or the plural, to use after "their" and lead me to a better understanding in this matter.

    Best wishes,


    AlJapon

  2. #2
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Just be consistent:

    dogs who put their heads out the window and dogs who are permitted off their leashes

    or

    dogs who put their head out the window and dogs who are permitted off their leash

    Most native speakers would go for the plural, IMO.

  3. #3
    TheParser is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlJapone View Post
    Dear Teachers,

    While surfing around the web, I came across two noun phrases below:

    dogs who put their head out the window
    dogs who are permitted off their leashes

    And I feel the words, head and leashes, are appropriately used in the singular and the plural respectively. But when I alter the noun phrases a little as shown below, somewhat to my own surprise, I find heads and leash more natural sounding to me.

    dogs who poked their heads through the half opened door.
    dogs who snap off their leash


    I myself do not know why I feel this way nor if they are grammatically correct.
    Please give me some explanation and rules for deciding which, the singular or the plural, to use after "their" and lead me to a better understanding in this matter.

    Best wishes,


    AlJapon

    If you type "distributive plurals" in this website's search box,

    you will find some helpful threads. THANK YOU

  4. #4
    AlJapone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    Just be consistent:

    dogs who put their heads out the window and dogs who are permitted off their leashes

    or

    dogs who put their head out the window and dogs who are permitted off their leash

    Most native speakers would go for the plural, IMO.
    Hello fivejedjon,

    It's my mistake not to have mentioned those two quotes are from two separate articles. I apologize for it. I understand your opinion is as follows:
    As long as we use the plural and the singular consistantly in one context, both are all rigit. But it is better to stick to the plural in most cases.
    Have I understood your post rightly?

    Best wishes,

    From NYTimes.com

    May 19, 2010, 11:36 AM
    Pets and Distracted Driving
    By TARA PARKER-POPE
    (...)
    FROM TPP : You raise two interesting points. I don't have the answer about staying on the floor, but it does seem safer than sitting on the seat in front of the airbag. And dogs who put their head out the window (and owners who let them) also make me cringe. You also worry about a swerve or unexpected accident - it would be terrible for the dog.
    (...)


    Editorial Observer; When DogsAre More Important Than People
    By BRENT STAPLES
    Published: September 10, 2000
    (...)In recent years, these tranquil mornings have been too often disrupted by snarling dogs who are permitted off their leashes in the early morning during what the park system refers to as "courtesy hours."(...)
    Last edited by AlJapone; 07-Jan-2011 at 12:49.

  5. #5
    AlJapone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    If you type "distributive plurals" in this website's search box,

    you will find some helpful threads. THANK YOU
    hello TheParser,

    Thank you for your kind suggestion.
    I will read them.

    Best wishes,


    AlJapone

  6. #6
    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    I never had a phrase for that before: distributive plurals. Thanks for that.

    The truth is, Al, natives will use this almost interchangeably and certainly inconsistently.

    In most cases, it doesn't matter.

    Each dog has one head. Each dog has one leash. Whether you say head/leash or heads/leashes, it won't matter.

    Problems arise when it's possible you meant that each person (or dog) had only one of something, but the real-world situation is that they could have several, or at least two.

    The girls raised their hands -- probably one hand, like a student answering a question, but maybe both, like people hoping to catch something desirable being thrown to the crowd. Context may tell you which.

    And even then, in most cases, it doesn't matter. If what happened next, while the girls stood with their hands in the air, was that a 4-meter, fire-breathing dragon ripped off the roof, ate the wedding cake and the groom, and swatted the band off the dias with his tail, does it really matter if they had one hand up or two?
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlJapone View Post
    It's my mistake not to have mentioned those two quotes are from two separate articles. I apologize for it.
    No problem. I thought they probably were. My 'be consistent' was advice for the future, not criticism of what you'd written.


    I understand your opinion is as follows: As long as we use the plural and the singular consistantly in one context, both are all right. But it is better to stick to the plural in most cases. Have I understood your post rightly?
    Indeed you have.
    5

  8. #8
    AlJapone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Thank you, Barb_D, for your opinion and, as always, fun illustrations of usage.

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    The truth is, Al, natives will use this almost interchangeably and certainly inconsistently.
    I am not at all sure whether I should agree or not. My biggest problem is that I do not know the reasons while, between the plural and the singular, I myself certainly prefer one in some cases and the other in other cases. Now I suspect that there are certain 'unknown known' rules on this distributive plurals thing. (i.e. consciously unknown yet unconsciously known rules rather than 'unknown unknown')

    Here I quote a bit from one of TheParser's posts on an old thread, which I find interesting in that the idea given there explains my preferance.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser
    (5) Finally, let me share something from an American judge who wrote:
    Ostriches when frightened bury their head in the sand.(here, omission by AlJapone)

    1. He said that there is no easy rule in English. (True!!!)
    2. He said that it depends on the mental picture that you have in mind.
    3. If you think a group is doing something together, then use the plural:(omission by AlJapone)
    4. If (in your mind) some persons or animals are not acting together at the same time, then use the singular:(omission by AlJapone)
    So when you say: "Ostriches hide their head," that is just a short way of saying: "An ostrich hides its head."
    I read one thread, where fivejedjon stated he also prefered the singular in some particular cases (if I did not misunderstand his words.)

    Best wishes,


    AlJapone
    Last edited by AlJapone; 08-Jan-2011 at 09:18. Reason: Removal of an irrelevant paragraphe

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    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlJapone View Post
    I read one thread, where fivejedjon stated he also prefered the singular in some particular cases (if I did not misunderstand his words.)
    Whenever, as a child, I protested that my parents would not allow me to do things that they did, I was told, "Don't do as I do, do as I say!". Bear those words in mind when I say again, 'Be consistent'.

    I can't locate the thread you mention. I suspect that I was talking about a slightly different area. However, if you find it, and it shows that I have been inconsisent, please let me know. It will be interesting to see if I can justify myself.

  10. #10
    AlJapone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Plural or Singular After 'Their'?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    I can't locate the thread you mention. I suspect that I was talking about a slightly different area. However, if you find it, and it shows that I have been inconsisent, please let me know. It will be interesting to see if I can justify myself.
    From the thread, We have a nose/We have noses

    We would say this mainly in such utterances as: 'we (humans) have a nose, whilst elephants have a trunk'. Even here we could use plurals.

    [3. What about the following cases?
    1) We have a nose.]
    No, except as I noted above.

    Whenever, as a child, I protested that my parents would not allow me to do things that they did, I was told, "Don't do as I do, do as I say!". Bear those words in mind when I say again, 'Be consistent'.
    I'm still a baby.

    Al

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