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    #1

    Unhappy How to combine plurals with singulars?

    Hello!
    I am new to this site and I have a question about the following sentence:

    Men like to spend time with their wife
    Men like to spend time with their wives

    If I use the singular I feel like the word THEIR doesn´t match with the word in singular WIFE
    And in teh second one, if I use FAMILIES I feel like these men have several WIVES

    Can you give me an advice?

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    #2

    Re: How to combine plurals with singulars?

    /A learner/

    Husbands like to spend time with their wives, each with his.

    (This is not true of course)

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    #3

    Re: How to combine plurals with singulars?

    Quote Originally Posted by marcemiaus View Post
    Hello!
    I am new to this site and I have a question about the following sentence:

    Men like to spend time with their wife
    Men like to spend time with their wives

    If I use the singular I feel like the word THEIR doesn´t match with the word in singular WIFE
    And in teh second one, if I use FAMILIES I feel like these men have several WIVES

    Can you give me an advice?

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    Marcemiaus,


    You have asked a super difficult question that also confuses many

    native speakers such as I.

    (1) I very respectfully suggest that you type the words "distributive

    plurals" in the "SEARCH" box at the very top of the page. There are

    some good results that will help you.

    (2) When you have time, please google "distributive plurals." There are

    many results that will help you a lot.

    (3) If you can, check some good grammar books that discuss

    "distributive plurals."

    (4) Please understand that native speakers do not always agree

    on what the "correct" answer is. Nevertheless, it is my opinion

    only that many (most?) Americans would prefer:

    Men like to spend time with their wives. (There would be no confusion

    because here in the United States, a man is allowed to have only

    one wife. Of course, in some societies, a man is allowed to have

    more than one wife, so that sentence would have a different

    meaning. That was a very intelligent observation of yours!!!)

    (5) I found some information in A Comprehensive Grammar of the

    English Language (London and New York: Longman, 1985) by Professor

    Quirk and others.

    (a) Have you all brought your cameras?
    (b) Hand in your papers [lessons] tomorrow.

    Sometimes you have a choice:

    They raised their hand(s).
    The exercise was not good for their back(s).

    Sometimes there are sayings (dichos en espanol) that you have to

    memorize:

    We are keeping an open mind. ("keeping open minds" would sound
    "strange.")

    They can't put their finger on it. (A saying that means that they are
    not able to explain something. It would sound "funny" to say: They can't put their fingers on it.)

    (5) Finally, let me share something from an American judge who

    wrote:

    Ostriches when frightened bury their head in the sand.

    Some native speakers said that the judge was wrong. They

    said that the judge should have said "their heads."

    The judge explained his choice of the singular:

    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: On the beach, I saw twenty ostriches hide their heads in the

    sand when they saw me. (You saw 20 heads go into the sand at the

    same time.)

    4. If (in your mind) some persons or animals are not acting together

    at the same time, then use the singular: Each ostrich has one head.

    You are thinking of what a single ostrich does when it is frightened.

    So when you say: "Ostriches hide their head," that is just a short

    way of saying: "An ostrich hides its head."

    Many native speakers did not agree with the judge's opinion. One

    person said that Shakespeare almost always used "heads," and

    some speakers said that there is a rule in many other languages.

    (For example, "Jaime" said that in Spanish the singular would be

    used in that ostrich sentence.) Unfortunately, English does NOT

    have one rule to apply to all sentences.

    Thank you & Happy New Year

    P.S. I have read that it is not true that ostriches hide their

    head(s) in the sand when they are frightened!!!
    Last edited by TheParser; 19-Dec-2010 at 21:04.

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    #4

    Re: How to combine plurals with singulars?

    I think The Parser had some great information there. The part about whether in the speaker's mind the group acts together or independently (the ostrich example) is the key.

    (And by the way, e2e4's correction from Men to Husbands was just to observe the proper equality, I believe. However, as they have wives, then they are therefore husbands, so I don't see the problem there. It's not the same thing as wrongly saying "Ladies and Men" instead of either "Ladies and Gentlemen" or "Women and Men".)

    Sometimes, also, the object is a concept, rather than a finite thing. For example, "All children go to school" - clearly, not a single building for all children, but school is a concept here.

    To me, as it is such a general statement, I would say that "men like to spend time with their wives" - and, as pointed out, that also is built on the assumption that each man has only one wife. I don't think it's needs any "each with his own" footnote. But to clarify things, you can always recast it in some way, such as "It is a general feeling that a man likes to spend time with his wife" or the like. In Saudi Arabia, it might be "A man likes to spend time with his wives."

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