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I'm a little confused about when I should be using the singular form of election, and when I should be using the plural form.

  • Did he win the election or win the elections?
  • Did I vote in the election or vote in the elections?
  • Is 1 in 4 years the frequency of the election or of the elections?
  • etc.

Which form should I be using, and when?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

'Election' refers to moving (by majority vote of a body) to a new position or job. In that case:

  • He won the election: He obtained, by majority vote, the position he was seeking.
  • He won the elections: He now has multiple jobs having run for, and obtained by majority vote, more than one position.

  • I voted in the election: I did cast a ballot for (or against) a particular candidate seeking a particular position at a particular time.

  • I voted in the elections: I was a regular voter in cycles of election of candidates to particular positions -- the past tense implies that this is no longer the case. In the context of several positions (or people who hold or held those positions) this may be used to explain that I was a voter in all elections in question.

  • 1 to 4 years is the frequency of election [of X]: Implies some ambiguity in the number of years constituting the cycle of re-election of a particular position; this has little or nonsense meaning without stating the position.

  • 1 to 4 years is the frequency of elections: This implies a global standard for all elections, but may be limited to a body or bodies of government, a country, or another form of electoral body.
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I am not sure I agree. I very rarely hear the plural form, "elections", used as in the sentence "I voted in the elections" meaning one event with many ballots cast. –  Noah Jul 20 '12 at 21:01
    
"I voted in the elections" is different than what I had written. I somehow thought the OP's wording was present tense; hence the confusion. I'll fix that now. –  Greyson Jul 20 '12 at 21:06
    
-1 because you're didn't really grasp the complete picture. I'd use "he's won the elections" for the POTUS. Because... it's a number of independent elections which culminate in chosing the President. Or any other form where there are multiple mostly independent elections (different electoral board and such) but the end result is, as you say, one position. Most parliamentary elections are, yes, elections. Even though they combine to "elect" the prime minister (or chancellor or whatever the head honcho's title is) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jul 21 '12 at 17:19
1  
@Erhard But, (a) I've never heard anyone say, "He won the elections for president", it's always singular. (b) Any election for a "big" office involves many people voting in different places, sometimes with different rules. But it's still ultimately one "event" to choose who will hold the office, hence one election. Your reasoning would make the most sense for a U.S. president, where the electoral college system means there are in a very real sense 51 separate elections. But nobody actually uses the plural in practice even there. –  Jay Jul 24 '12 at 16:30

"An election" would be for one office. "Elections" would be for multiple offices, or for the same office on different occasions.

So: "Mr Jones won the election for senator." He ran for this office and won.

"The Foobar Party swept the elections." There were many offices, and the Foobar Party candidates won some large majority of them

"Mr Jones has won all the elections he's been in." Mr Jones has run for many offices over the course of his career and he has always won.

"We have elections for president every 4 years." It's a recurring event, so there are many of them. You could also say, "We have an election for president every 4 years." That would mean the same thing. Side note: "1 to 4 years is the frequency of elections" is, I guess, technically correct but it's awkward wording. It's not the usual word order.

You could say, "We hold elections every two years." Depending on context, that could mean that there is some office that we're holding an election for every two years, not necessarily the same office. Like in 2010 we have elections for mayor and senator, in 2012 we have elections for governor and sheriff, etc.

I think people often say "election" to mean one trip to the polls as opposed to one office. Like, "Did you vote in the last election?" is pretty much the same as "Did you vote in the last elections?"

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The word “elections” is a lot like the word “fishes”.

When you are talking about many of the same kind of fish, they are pluralized as “fish”. For example, when seeing a school of trout it would be grammatically correct to exclaim, “Look at all those fish!”. When you are casting many ballots on the same election day, it is an “election”. For example: I voted for every libertarian in the last election.

When you are talking about many different kinds of fish, the word is “fishes”. For example: many different fishes live in Lake Texoma. When you are talking about many different election days, the appropriate word is “elections”. For example: Barack Obama has won many elections.

Here is how your examples would reflect that:

  • Did he win the election or win the elections? It depends on how many he won! If he only won once, election would be correct.
  • Did I vote in the election or vote in the elections? If you only voted on one election day, you voted in the election.
  • Is 1 in 4 years the frequency of the election or of the elections? Elections occur once every 2 years (in my state).
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Quite often, one election will have several races, initiatives, measures, levies, and referenda. It's still one election.

Did he win the election or win the elections? Barack Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election; George W. Bush won the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

Did I vote in the election or vote in the elections? My uncle will have voted in two elections this year: the recall vote on the Wisconsin governor last month, and the presidential election later in November.

Is 1 in 4 years the frequency of the election or of the elections? Presidential elections are held every four years. Many states hold an annual election for various referenda, including the renewing of tax levies.

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