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Can I say: "Do fires cause cancer"?

Can "fire" be plural?

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Fires would seem to be house fires, building fires, and the like. You never know what's burning in a fire; for example, certain fire retardants have been shown to be carcinogenic when they burn, and ash itself contains carcinogens. –  Gnawme Jan 12 '12 at 20:39
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But it seems a bit terse to say Fires cause cancer when what's actually meant seems to be Inhaling smoke and fumes from burning material causes cancer. That would include smoking tobacco, for instance. –  John Lawler Jan 12 '12 at 21:07
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1 Answer

up vote 10 down vote accepted

One of the meanings of fire is a single conflagrative event. The word fires describes several such events. So, yes, Do fires cause cancer? is a grammatically conventional English sentence.

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Would you agree that the said sentence is correct? –  lukas Jan 12 '12 at 20:23
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@lukas: I have edited my answer to say so. –  Barrie England Jan 12 '12 at 20:24
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+1 for "conflagrative event" –  MετάEd Jan 12 '12 at 20:48
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Alternately, you could use "Does fire cause cancer?" to refer to the concept of fire and I suspect that you'd get the same meaning unless you're specifically exploring the effects of experiencing multiple fires. –  Sean Duggan Jan 12 '12 at 22:09
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The use of the plural is extremely significant here, considering that the plural has a unique definition. The intention seems to be to state that such things as 'incidents of fire' (major fire), 'forest fires', etc., would cause cancer. Not any fire in general. –  Kris Jan 13 '12 at 5:42
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