I'm having trouble explaining why some possessive forms take a singular noun. For example:
"My parents' retirement" or "My parents' retirements"
"Many workers are preparing for their retirement(s?)"
"People's weight is increasing" or "People's weights are increasing"
And this particular one:
"Third world countries' dependence(dependencies?) on First world countries is(are) increasing"
Thanks for any assistance
The children all raised their hands.
(even though each - presumably! - raises only one hand)
They put down their bags and went to their seats.
(even though each has only one seat and probably only one bag )
but as singular when abstract, hence 'weight' and 'retirement' in the examples you cite.
Many exceptions, however, especially to the latter, can be found. For instance, in
The politicians hoped to realize their dreams and ambitions.
even though both 'dream' and 'ambition' are abstract nouns and each politician may well have only one of each, the plural is still the only natural choice here. In this case, one can only point out that, on purely linguistic grounds, nouns such as 'weight' and 'retirement' are much less likely to be treated as countable than either 'dream' or 'ambition' (regardless of the technical possibility of doing so). Additionally, there is of course the sense point that one person, considered at any given moment in time, can have many dreams or ambitions but only one weight or time of retirement!
Sadly for your students, only sheer experience of English is likely ever to enable a complete mastery of this point!
Last edited by philo2009; 17-Oct-2009 at 04:35.