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When using zero as a quantifier, is it correct to use the singular form on the object of the quantifier, or the plural form?

It sounds confusing when I put it that way, but what I mean is: Which is correct?

  • Your password expires in 0 days.
  • Your password expires in 0 day.

Essentially I suppose I'm asking, does "singular" mean "one" or "the opposite of more than one", as zero is not "plural" in the traditional "more than one" sense?

I'm pretty sure "days" sounds correct, but I can't be sure.

  • Definitely 'days'. General rule of thumb, I'd say, is that if you're using 1 or -1, it's singular; else it's plural. – Jez Feb 17 '11 at 20:38
  • Yes, we have no bananas. – Brian Hooper Feb 17 '11 at 20:45
  • @Jez -- I think I'd usually pluralise with any number other than 1, including -1. – Neil Coffey Feb 17 '11 at 21:22
  • 2
    Answered by a linguist here, and by another linguist here. – RegDwigнt Jun 25 '12 at 21:02
  • What about 1.0 ton / tons? 1.0 may or may not be equivalent to (exactly equal to in mathsspeak) 1 (it may be a rounded figure). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 14 '13 at 15:50
24

In English, every number that is not 1 is considered plural. The correct sentence is the first you wrote.

Your password expires in 0 days.

  • 1
    That is not quite correct. 0.5 for example is considered singular. – Kenny LJ Feb 14 '14 at 22:33
  • 6
    I would say "you need 0.5 kilograms of beans", rather than "0.5 kilogram of bean." It's half kilogram, that is true. Anyway, the question is about days, which normally is an integer value. – kiamlaluno Feb 15 '14 at 16:56
  • 2
    You would, however, say "you need half a bean" - if you could think of any situation that would actually call for half a bean. Days are discussed in fractions somewhat more frequently than beans, especially in project estimating - "making that change will add half a day to the schedule", for example. If talking in decimals, though, we'd be more likely to say "0.5 days." That suggests that there's a grammatical distinction between using traditional and decimal fractions. – BrummiePete Mar 18 '16 at 14:14
  • @kiamlaluno while your answer is correct, could you please source it to a reference? – Cœur Apr 28 '18 at 11:34
4

For your specific example, since you're doing processing to check for != 1 day, I'd recommend spending the few extra lines of code to produce "Your password expires today", "Your password expires tomorrow", or "your password expires in X days".

In the general case, 0 does count (rather non-intuitively) as a plural number.

-1

Zero is always plural. Only "one" is singular in the English language. Correctly, it is 0.5 kilogram of beans (five tenths of a kilogram of beans vice five tents of a kilograms of beans).

  • 1
    Slightly disagree on 0.5 killogram. I say "zero point five kilograms" or half a kilogram. – user420667 Oct 20 '16 at 19:12

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