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Thread: brain / brains

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    brain / brains

    I came across this sentence:

    He's a big strapping guy but short on brains.

    I look the word 'brains' up in Cambridge dictionaries online:

    [C] used to refer to intelligenceMarie has an amazing brain (= is very intelligent).
    That can't possibly be the right way to do it - use your brain!
    The poor child inherited his mother's brains and his father's looks.
    He's got brains but he's too lazy to use them (= He is clever but lazy).

    and I still don't quite understand why 's' is needed after brain.
    If I use the singular form - short on brain - would that be okay?

    How do native speakers judge when to use the plural/singular form? Thanks

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    Re: brain / brains

    If I use the singular form - short on brain - would that be okay?
    No, it wouldn't. It's a tricky question, but it's largely down to collocation. If you're thinking about intelligence in general, the plural is more likely. If you're thinking about the person's whole mental capacity as a singular entity or their focus on a singular issue, then the singular is more likely. Other people may see things differently.

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