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    #1

    When to make a noun plural?

    I was reading one grammar source, where they say:

    " For instance, when we want each student to see his or her counselor (and each student is assigned to only one counselor), but we want to avoid that "his or her" construction by pluralizing, do we say "Students must see their counselors" or "Students must see their counselor"? The singular counselor is necesssary to avoid the implication that students have more than one counselor apiece. Do we say "Many sons dislike their father or fathers"? We don't mean to suggest that the sons have more than one father, so we use the singular father." (From "Guide to Grammar & Writing")

    Now I have a question. For example, if a teacher tells his wife to look at all the students' noses(nose?) in his class, which would be more appropriate to say?

    1. Look at their nose.
    2. Look at their noses.

    Since we do not mean to suggest that each student has more than one nose, should we use "nose" instead of "noses"? Or since we are talking about Mr. A's nose, Mr. B's nose, Mr. C's nose, and more, should we use the plural form "their noses" instead of the singular form "nose"?

    I am confused. Please give me advice on when I should actually use the plural form and when I should not.

  1. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: When to make a noun plural?

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    I was reading one grammar source, where they say:

    " For instance, when we want each student to see his or her counselor (and each student is assigned to only one counselor), but we want to avoid that "his or her" construction by pluralizing, do we say "Students must see their counselors" or "Students must see their counselor"? The singular counselor is necesssary to avoid the implication that students have more than one counselor apiece. Do we say "Many sons dislike their father or fathers"? We don't mean to suggest that the sons have more than one father, so we use the singular father." (From "Guide to Grammar & Writing")

    Now I have a question. For example, if a teacher tells his wife to look at all the students' noses(nose?) in his class, which would be more appropriate to say?

    1. Look at their nose.
    2. Look at their noses.

    Since we do not mean to suggest that each student has more than one nose, should we use "nose" instead of "noses"? Or since we are talking about Mr. A's nose, Mr. B's nose, Mr. C's nose, and more, should we use the plural form "their noses" instead of the singular form "nose"?

    I am confused. Please give me advice on when I should actually use the plural form and when I should not.
    I disagree with the grammar book. While it is certainly possible that "Students must see their counsellors" can be read to say that each student has more than one counsellor, the book's suggestion can be read to say that there is only one counsellor for the entire class. That does not solve the ambiguity problem. In this situation, the singular is the clearest. Each student should see his/her counsellor. If it is imperative to avoid his/her, then one could say "see a counsellor" or "see the counsellor assigned to that student".
    With the second example, I would use the plural. Since one doesn't really worry about a reader thinking that students have multiple noses, the plural is not really a problem.

    Consider this sentence: The men were encouraged to bring their wife/wives to the closing session. There is no gender problem here, so put the sentence in the singular. Each man was encouraged to bring his wife to the closing session. Now we don't have to guess between men with multiple wives or a wife with multiple husbands.
    Last edited by MikeNewYork; 04-Nov-2006 at 16:57.

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    #3

    Re: When to make a noun plural?

    Dear MikeNewYork,

    I perfectly understand what you say and agree that it would probably be the best way to clarify the meanings. However, if I just keep the examples just the way they are written, can I still use the plural form and describe what each must/dislike/etc.?

    I mean...
    1. Students must see their counselors. (Can I use the plural form "counselors" instead of the singular form "a counselor" to describe that each student must see his/her counselor?)

    2. Many sons dislike their fathers. (Can I use the plural form "fathers" instead of the singular form "a father" to describe that each son dislikes his father?)

  2. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: When to make a noun plural?

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    Dear MikeNewYork,

    I perfectly understand what you say and agree that it would probably be the best way to clarify the meanings. However, if I just keep the examples just the way they are written, can I still use the plural form and describe what each must/dislike/etc.?

    I mean...
    1. Students must see their counselors. (Can I use the plural form "counselors" instead of the singular form "a counselor" to describe that each student must see his/her counselor?)

    2. Many sons dislike their fathers. (Can I use the plural form "fathers" instead of the singular form "a father" to describe that each son dislikes his father?)
    Yes. For me, the sentence is far more natural in the plural than in the singular. In the plural, I see a number of students and a number of counselors. I don't automatically see multiple counselors per student.
    The same is true for "fathers" and "sons".

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    #5

    Re: When to make a noun plural?

    Dear MikeNewYork,

    Thank you for your comments and advice!
    Your comments really help me.

  3. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: When to make a noun plural?

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    Dear MikeNewYork,

    Thank you for your comments and advice!
    Your comments really help me.
    You're very welcome.

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