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Does the plural include the singular? And if so, in what sort of cases?

This question has arisen because of the example sentence below.

Amendment shall be permitted only in cases of: 1. deletion of claims 2. correction of error

My co-worker, who is not a native speaker of English, insists that if only one error is corrected (or if only one claim is deleted), then amendment will not be permitted. Is this the necessary interpretation?

Is there a specific name for this issue? And if plural does include the singular, what are some less legalistic examples that can be used to explain that the plural form is not necessarily, well, plural?

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If amendments were only permitted if both cases were satisfied, I would expect it to say "in cases of deletion of claim AND correction of error." In your example can both conditions actually be met simultaneously? I'm confused by your title and your question and example. Perhaps you can try explaining it better. – Kristina Lopez Oct 18 '12 at 1:09
This sounds like something you need a lawyer for. – tchrist Oct 18 '12 at 1:14
Since "case" is plural, it's talking about two cases in which amendment is permitted. Your co-worker's interpretation makes no sense because with that interpretation, there would only be one case. – David Schwartz Dec 12 '12 at 2:55
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There are a few issues that seem to be in play.

In most cases, a reference to plurals in rules also includes the singular. And vice versa.

In the event of errors, accommodation will be made.

While the plural is used, most readers would believe that this applied to a single error as well as multiple errors. Similarly

In the event of error, accommodation will be made.

It means the same thing.

Sometimes, to make clear that both singular and plural circumstances apply, parenthetical plurals are used.

In the event of error(s), accommodation will be made.

This makes it explicit that both singular and plural problems will be adjusted for.

I am not aware of a term that names this characteristic (or conundrum).

As you have suggested, this is a problem often faced in legal drafting (which you wish to avoid). To ensure clarity, many contracts say something that means "plural words can cover singular events and singular words can cover plural events."

To convey this simply you could say

Amendment shall be permitted only in cases of: 1. deletion of one or more claims 2. correction of one or more errors.

Your example also raises another issue. It lists two conditions:

  1. deletion of claims 2. correction of error

There is some ambiguity as to whether these conditions are conjunctive or disjunctive as written. Does it mean

when there is both 1. deletion of one or more claims AND 2. correction of one or more errors

or does it mean

when there is either 1. deletion of one or more claims OR 2. correction of one or more errors, BUT NOT BOTH

or does it mean

when there is either 1. deletion of one or more claims OR 2. correction of one or more errors, OR BOTH

You need to clarify whether you mean

    1. AND 2.
    1. BUT NOT 2.
    1. AND/OR 2.
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Your co-worker is misinterpreting the statement.

The "error" is in the interpretation of the word error

Error can mean:

a mistake or inaccuracy

but it can also mean

the condition of deviating from accuracy or correctness

The first is countable the second is not. I believe the intention is to say, that amendments are only allowed in 2 situations, either when claims are being deleted or when the document is found to be in error (second definition above).

Of course as @tchrist says, only a lawyer can tell you whether he'd be willing to defend that interpretation.

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