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If I recall correctly, the Académie française states that, for French, quantities comprised within [-1,1] are singular, and anything else is plural. This means, for instance, that we should say (in French) 0.3722 apple, instead of 0.3722 apples.

I know the plurality for 1 and -1 in English, but what is the plurality of real numbers between them?

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Are you asking about (-1)? I've never heard or read something like "I have -1 [something] in my bag" for example... Did I misunderstand your question? –  Alenanno Apr 19 '11 at 17:59
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@Alenanno, You understood correctly. Good contexts for this kind of use are statistics and measurements, like "the average household has 0.62 dog(s?)" or "it's -0.76 degree(s?) Celsius outside". –  zneak Apr 19 '11 at 18:02
    
@zneak: Ah ok, I didn't considered technical use ahah my bad. :) –  Alenanno Apr 19 '11 at 18:15
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Related: 0.25 mile or 0.25 miles? –  RegDwigнt Apr 19 '11 at 18:17
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possible duplicate of Is -1 singular or plural? –  MrHen Apr 19 '11 at 18:48

2 Answers 2

up vote 34 down vote accepted

You could make the argument that English does not have singular and plural markers per se, but rather singular and "non-singular". (I'm not necessarily advocating this view, just throwing it out there.)

The evidence would be that the singular form is used to refer to one of something, while the plural form is used to refer to all other amounts. This includes everything between -1 and 1 (not including 1, of course).

  • -25 volts
  • -1 volts
  • -0.25 volts
  • 0 volts
  • 0.1 volts
  • 0.5 volts
  • 0.999 volts
  • 1.0000001 volts
  • 1 volt

With that said, there are a few special cases that need to be addressed:

  1. There is no apple on the table.
  2. There are no apples on the table.
  3. There is half of an apple on the table.

While (2) might be more common, (1) is certainly possible in certain situations. This looks like an exception to the rule; note that (1) is normally said in response to an assertion that an apple should be on the table, while (2) is said in any situation.

Now, (3) might look like an exception as well, but grammatically speaking, apple is still referring to one apple, where "half of an apple" = "half of one apple" (logically and syntactically).

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However it should be noted that one would say 'You have 0.5 apples' and 'You have half an apple'. –  Toby Allen Apr 19 '11 at 19:03
    
I rather like this singular / non-singular idea. In some ways it seems 'non-singular' is in fact the generic, and we only use the singular when there really is one and only one. So for What's in Mom's pie?, the answer is likely to be Apple. Not Apples, even if it's a huge pie. –  FumbleFingers Apr 19 '11 at 21:41
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@FumbleFingers: In that example, though, apple refers to the substance of apples, the meat, which is a (slightly) different thing with the same name. –  Jon Purdy Apr 19 '11 at 22:28
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@Toby Allen: I thought I did note that in my answer — special case #3. The apple part in "half an apple" is a red herring, because it is its own separate prepositional phrase (with of elided). Notice that you say "two halves of an apple", pluralizing halves even though it equals 1 apple, and you say "4 halves of an apple", still not pluralizing apple, even though you now have two apples. You're not counting apples in any of these examples, you're counting halves. Thus, if you combine the terms into a single compound word, "half apple", then you do get "two half apples". –  Kosmonaut Apr 19 '11 at 22:50
    
It seems the definition of plural, when applied to the English language, is precisely "a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one" (taken from the wikipedia). So we don't need to define this "non-singular" concept: it would be irrelevant, since it has the same meaning as "plural" in this context. –  rsenna Apr 20 '11 at 16:46

In science and engineering you would use the plural

0.123 kilogram s or -0.1 volt s

Interestingly you use the plural for zero, so 0 volt s

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Yep. The rule is that you only use the singular for one (1). Everything else, including decimals, fractions, zero, and negative numbers, takes the plural. –  JSBձոգչ Apr 19 '11 at 18:01

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