Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've been wondering, since these example numbers end with 1, isn't it natural to use the following noun in its singular form?

From what I've been seeing around on the web this does not seem to be the case. All numbers except for 1 are followed by plural nouns.

In some languages you do need to use the singular form with the numbers ending with 1.

How is it supposed to be in English?

share|improve this question
    
There's no "supposed to be": that's how it is (i.e. how native speakers use the language). –  Colin Fine Apr 19 '11 at 13:03
    
@Colin: I am not sure that is helping. Getting semantic about the phrase "supposed to be" versus "how it is" is great for linguistic debates. The question is pretty easy to understand and the intent is to simply follow the traditional usage of English. –  MrHen Apr 19 '11 at 15:38
    
@Mr Hen: which is why it was a comment and not an answer. Developer Art seems to know what the answer is, and is asking about some mythical "supposed to". –  Colin Fine Apr 20 '11 at 9:50
    
@Colin Fine: If I had known the answer I wouldn't have asked this question. –  user7583 Apr 20 '11 at 19:39
    
@Developer Art: I'm sorry if I've offended you. You seemed to me to be saying "Does English do what seems natural to me, and what some other languages do? No, it apparently doesn't", but then persisting with your question in the face of the evidence you had gathered. –  Colin Fine Apr 21 '11 at 20:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted

In English, the singular is used for one thing, and the plural is generally used for anything else. This includes more than one (any number), as well as zero.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1; To add to this answer, the last digit is irrelevant. 21 does not get special treatment because of the 1. English cares about quantity; not the 1 in and of itself. –  MrHen Apr 19 '11 at 15:33

Plural means more than 1. (Well, something like that. You can also have 0 items, which is less than 1, but still given the plural form.)

If you have 21 of something, then you have more than 1 of it.

The plural form of item is items.

So the correct way is 21 items.

share|improve this answer
1  
F'x's answer is more correct. Negative numbers also use plurals. The only thing that gets a singular is exactly one. –  MrHen Apr 19 '11 at 15:32
    
Isn't -1 also singular? –  aslum Apr 19 '11 at 17:17
2  
@aslum: I can sort of be: "You have -1 item" is OK, but "you have -1 items" is also valid. –  Matt Эллен Apr 19 '11 at 17:33

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.