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Is the following sentence (grammatically) correct?

I've got a brown and a black horses.

The sentence was meant to express the fact that I have two horses, a brown one and a black one.

I am especially curious about the plural form of the noun horses, as it seems to be grammatically correct (it's two horses) but unnatural.

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closed as general reference by FumbleFingers, JSBձոգչ, Mitch, Mahnax, Matt Эллен Aug 23 '12 at 8:48

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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

No, it’s incorrect to use the plural here. The underlying structure of the sentence is:

I have a brown horse and a black horse.

The first horse may be elided, as the same noun occurs in the next conjunct, giving:

I have a brown and a black horse.

But you don’t alter the second horse as part of the elision process.

Note that you can have number mismatches here:

I have one brown horse and two black horses.
I have one brown and two black horses.

But some speakers, including me, aren’t mad about such sentences when the plural is elided and the singular remains:

? I have two brown and one black horse.

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Give that man a black and tan! –  JeffSahol Aug 15 '12 at 13:59
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Hmm, interesting example.

People routinely write, "I have a brown and a black horse."

I suppose you could say that logically there are two horses, so you should use the plural. If you said it without the article, you should certainly use the plural: "I have brown and black horses."

Normally when there's a compound noun like that we use the plural: "Ginger and Wildfire are my favorite horses." "Ginger and Wildfire is ..." would be called an error in any English class I've ever been in.

If you used numbers it might be iffier: I think most English-speaking people would write, "I have two brown and one black horses". But I think most would say, "I have one brown and one black horse", not "one brown and one black horses".

It seems that when you give an explicit number of "one" with "a", "the", or "one", suddenly two ones are still considered singular.

Anybody know a general rule for this?

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The correct sentence should be:

I've got a brown and a black horse.

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