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In the following sentence:

The great cities have been built with no regard for us. The shape and dimensions of the skyscrapers depend entirely on the necessity of obtaining the maximum income per square foot of ground.

Should "the shape" be changed to "the shapes", since "the skyscrapers" each have different shapes?

Or should we change "the shape and dimensions of the skyscrapers" to "the shape and dimensions of the skyscraper" if the original sentence means to be a general statement?

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4 Answers

Your sentence — presuming it to be yourself rather than an unattributed citation — is correct as it stands.

Each skyscraper has one shape and several dimensions. Just because there are many skyscrapers does not change that.

This is completely equivalent to things like these:

  • All applicants will be considered, without regard to age or sex.
  • The age and sex of the applicants will not be taken into account.
  • Everyone please touch your right index finger to your nose.
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Thanks! Regarding the second sentence you gave in your post, is it equivalent to "The age and sex of the applicant will not be taken into account" (if I want to use "the applicant" in the general sense) or "The age and sex of applicants will not be taken into account"? –  user37060 Feb 4 '13 at 17:12
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Shape and dimension, mathematically, refers to a given shape with multiple dimensions. All 3-d objects have multpile dimensions yet are refered to as having shape and dimension.

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In your example, you talk about multiple skyscrapers. If you're considering each skyscraper individually, then yes, shape should be pluralized, as should all the adjectives that are applying to the plural noun:

The shapes and dimensions of the skyscrapers depend...

If, however, you're considering all the skyscrapers as a single "entity" then the adjectives can be changed to be singular to describe this entity, though it sounds a little odd:

The shape and dimension of the skyscrapers depends...

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"Shape and dimension" covers what about the objects you are talking about. The skyscrapers are multiple and are pluralized. So neither shape nor dimension should be pluralized.

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It's not exactly clear what you mean by "covers what", can you clarify? I also beg to differ on your answer itself; "dimensions" is generally pluralised because generally things have more than one dimension. –  Alicia Butteriss Feb 4 '13 at 18:03
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