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"Are there any <plural noun>" vs. "is there any <singular noun>"

My question is on whether you should use nice cards or a nice card. All these sentences are written on the assumption that he sends one card to each of his friends at each event. (It is quite normal, isn’t it?) They say it should be cards, with [1] and [2].

  1. He always sends me nice cards.
  2. He always sends me nice cards at Christmas.
  3. He always sends each of his friends a nice card/ nice cards.
  4. He always sends each of his friends a nice card at Christmas.

Do the last two sentences still have to use cards?

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marked as duplicate by aedia λ, Daniel, kiamlaluno, Mitch, simchona Aug 24 '11 at 23:27

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

I do not think this is a duplicate of that (first-linked, poor quality) question. This one asks quite clearly about preferred usage or any possible distinctions in a specific context, and it can be properly answered. The other one is vague and has little prospect of being definitively answered, let alone cited as the definitive version of this type of question. –  FumbleFingers Aug 23 '11 at 23:24
@RegDwight: Your related question is certainly pertinent. If nothing else it inspires me to go and answer that one as well, since I think the only answer there at the moment is at least pedantic, if not downright wrong. –  FumbleFingers Aug 23 '11 at 23:29
All right, all right, now that I've had something to eat, I agree that not all questions about plurals are the same question :) –  aedia λ Aug 24 '11 at 1:24

3 Answers 3

(1) and (2) are both fine. It's a trivial matter of style which you use.

In (3) and (4) there might be a slight tendency to use the plural, but it would be pedantic to either criticise the singular, or to assume it meant he sent copies of the same card to everyone.

In passing I'll just note that to my ear, the least natural aspect of (3) and (4) is the use of each of. I think most people would say all (or possibly all of, but I don't like that quite so much).

LATER Having noted that @Jacob Eggers thinks my answer suggests you "need to use the plural" in certain cases, I will just clarify that I find all these variants perfectly acceptable...

  • He always sends me nice cards at Christmas.

  • He always sends me a nice card at Christmas.

  • He always sends all his friends nice cards at Christmas.

  • He always sends all his friends a nice card at Christmas.

For anyone who feels that last one might be slightly "iffy", consider...

  • He always gives all his friends a warm welcome, whether they visit alone or in a group.
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Would it make a difference if I used 'a nice card' in [1] and [2]? –  Sssamy Aug 24 '11 at 2:27
@Sssamy: Only insofar as "He always sends me a nice card" might be a bit odd in isolation if we don't know when. That's why I included "at Christmas" in all my examples. But for your purposes, I think you can just assume that it really doesn't matter whether you choose to use the singular or plural in any of these contexts. –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 2:55
...I've only just noticed that your examples (1) and (2) differ only in the additional "at Christmas". I just assumed since you were asking about pluralisation you'd have one singular and one plural there. Hopefully you can see from the comment above why it's best to specify when if you're going to use singular. He might always send you a nice card when you're in hospital, but supposing you've only ever been hospitalised once in your life? –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 3:01
FWIW, I would think "He always sends me a nice card" is entirely grammatical, but insufficient to convey a meaning on its own (one every day? one every holiday? one evry Christmas?) where "He always sends me nice cards" implies ..'whenever he does send a card.' Can't see any reason for this, but it's true. –  TimLymington Aug 24 '11 at 9:16
@TimLymington: Perhaps I wasn't clear. Both are 'entirely grammatical'. As you say, the plural somehow implies 'whenever he does send a card' in such a way that you don't feel compelled to ask when?. I think the reason "a card" doesn't do that so well is because it steers you towards a single regular repeating (annual?) occurrence. So you end up wondering which of the likely contenders (Xmas, birthday, holiday, etc.) that might be. With the plural you might imagine any/all of those (plus maybe others), so it's less of an issue. –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 15:24

For [2] I like "He always sends me a nice card at Christmas." Since I'm assuming he only sends you one card at Christmas.

And likewise for [3] and [4] I prefer "a nice card". Since I'm assuming he only sent one to each friend.

Note: If you were to say "...all of his friends..." as @FumbleFingers suggested, you would need to use the plural "nice cards"

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So, I should have added that you guys, with a singular subject you can not say cards??????? I really do not understand I only write the usages I havenot been making up or only telling an opinion.. But Thanks a lot.. Maybe I should change my style of telling... –  A.Uysal Aug 24 '11 at 15:57

[1] is fine, because it is speaking generally; you're saying he has sent you multiple nice cards over an unknown period of time.

[2] should be He always sends me a nice card at Christmas, because the "...at Christmas" defines a time period, and denotes that he only sends you one card each Christmas, but that he has done so for multiple Christmases.

[3] should be He always sends each of his friends nice cards, as it's simply a repetition of [1] with the indirect object changed from "me" to "each of his friends". "Each" is used to describe a single generic person out of a group, and is therefore singular just like "me".

[4] is simply a repetition of [2], again, with the subject changed from "me" to "each of his friends", so it should read He always sends each of his friends a nice card at Christmas.

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