English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Why do we talk about a material or metal having magnetic properties (as opposed to having a magnetic property)?

share|improve this question

closed as not a real question by Noah, MετάEd, Mahnax, StoneyB, Matt E. Эллен Sep 20 '12 at 9:06

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Do you have an example quote or reference to support this? Context helps. – zooone9243 Sep 15 '12 at 11:08
How do you know it's one? – Noah Sep 15 '12 at 11:16
How do I delete my question? This is rather embarrassing. I was mixing the common usage of an object either being attracted to magnets or not, with the physical concept of magnetism. Is it too late to go back? – By137 Sep 15 '12 at 11:36
@By137: Take it easy, dude. If you really want your question to be deleted, flag it and write Please delete as self delete wont work. – Noah Sep 15 '12 at 11:50
up vote 5 down vote accepted

"there is only one property".

This is not the case; a material will have several magnetic properties including saturation, permeability and magnetic moment (see here for more), which is why the plural is used, as it would also be used in the case of thermal properties or electrical properties.

share|improve this answer

The reference here is not to the property of being magnetic as such, but to the quality of possessing/ exhibiting magnetic properties.

There's no reason why there should be only a single magnetic property.

Every magnetic object exhibits a set of certain properties.

Furthermore, when we do refer to the magnetic nature of an object, we call it the object's property of magnetism, rather than magnetic property.

share|improve this answer
Will the great physicist please stand up? Cowards! – Kris Sep 15 '12 at 11:18
+1, not sure why there was a downvote... – zooone9243 Sep 15 '12 at 11:20
Random, unexplained, down-votes are something of an ELU characteristic... – Roaring Fish Sep 15 '12 at 11:46
I would call them chicken(s) – Noah Sep 15 '12 at 12:04

Magnetism has more than one property. Like poles repel, opposite poles attract, they point north, and so on. Collectively, these are magnetic properties.

You are correct that the thing is either magnetic or not, but magnetic and magnetic properties are not the same the thing. The properties (OED: "An attribute, characteristic, or quality.") are the result of being magnetic.

share|improve this answer

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