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.

Possible Duplicate:
There are no comments / There is no comment

Which of these is more standard?

There are no balls in the room.

There is no ball in the room.

Or if both can be appropriate, which would be used to discuss the requirement that one or more balls is required to be in the room, but at present none are in the room?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Feb 16 '12 at 22:04

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.

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Either can be used. A general rule you might follow is to consider whether you are indicating the absence of multiple balls. If the requirement is for exactly one ball, you would want to use:

There is no ball in the room.

If the requirement is for more than one (or one or more), you would use:

There are no balls in the room.

share|improve this answer

When we are discussing a matter of existence, where the number is zero or non-zero, we use the singular:

There is no ball in the room.

When counting, however, the plural generally applies to any number other than one. Fractions and percentages are singular when referring to the whole, but plural when referring to the components.

There is one ball in the room.

There are 0.642 balls in the room.

There are zero balls in the room.

There are no balls in the room.

There is half a pizza in the refrigerator.

Two thirds of the student body are Christians.

share|improve this answer

As a rough rule of thumb, I would suggest using the singular if the normal state of affairs is for there to be "either zero or one" of the given item, and the plural if there's no 'expected' number as such.

It would probably be more common here to use the plural, because we don't have a sense that "a room normally has one ball in it". A room isn't specifically designed for holding balls, and the number of expected balls in a room isn't "zero or one".

However, the singular is much more likely in a case such as:

There's no car in the garage.

because we have a notion that 'a garage usually fits one car in it'.

(On the other hand, if your particular garage happens to be a very large/shared one, then the plural would then be appropriate.)

share|improve this answer
1  
Agree. The singlular sounds distinctly odd in cases where more than one is routine. Like, "There is no woman at XYZ company" sounds odd, we expect, "There are no women at XYZ Company." But, "There is no woman in the Smith house" (since Mrs Smith died, e.g.) is a fairly common thing to say. –  Jay Feb 16 '12 at 20:33
    
@Jay: Disagree. The vast majority of almost 8000 written instances of "there is no woman on" are in contexts where the writer clearly feels that there should be many women "on the board / committee / executive / council" or whatever he's fulminating about - often because there are on others. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 20:45
    
@FumbleFingers: Hmm, the construction sounds odds to me, but if it's commonly used, okay. Did you really count 4001 instances to determine they were a majority? Sounds like a lot of work for a forum post! –  Jay Feb 17 '12 at 20:45
    
@Jay: Of course I didn't count. But I have a paypal account, and if you'd like to bet £10 at 50:50 that I'm wrong - bring it on! (loser to pay the costs at a reasonable hourly rate for someone else to do the actual counting! :) –  FumbleFingers Feb 17 '12 at 23:46

I agree with others that where the expected number of [balls] is either zero or one, the more common phrasing would be There is no ball.

In most other contexts, the difference is mainly that saying There is no ball is more emphatic than There are no balls - similar in nuance to There's not a single ball (contraction is also common).

share|improve this answer

We have to imagine the various situations in which things like this might need to be said. If I’m looking all over the house for some balls and I come to a particular room in which balls are still not to be found, I might say ‘No, there no balls in this room’ (although more probably I’d say ‘No, there aren’t any balls in this room’). If someone insists that there are balls in the room, I might say the same, emphasising ‘are’ (or ‘aren’t’ in the case of the alternative).

If I were looking for a single ball in the same circumstances, I’d say ‘No, there isn't one in here either’. Again, if someone tells me there is a ball in the room when clearly there isn’t, I’d probably say ‘Whatchya mean there’s a ball in the room? I can’t see one.’ I can’t imagine ever saying ‘There is no ball in the room.’

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.