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So I had a debate with a friend, where that friend is of the opinion that you can't compare singular entities with plural ones

Eg : Women are like a magnet, always attractive! (Just an example)
Women - Plural
A magnet - Singular

is wrong according to my friend.

Whereas, I think the above is right. The only thing that should matter grammatically is, using "is like" or "are like" based on which is used first, Singular or Plural.

Eg: The above sentence if Singular entity is used first should be -

"A magnet is like women, always attractive!"

Am I right in the above two sentences? I'm also looking for sources which can validate this usage. Thanks.

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    Magnets are attractive exactly as often as they are repulsive. – RegDwigнt Oct 10 '13 at 11:27
  • I see your point there ;) – Vandesh Oct 10 '13 at 11:32
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If you want to balance the sentences a little better, you'd match the number (plural or singular) of the things you're comparing and say, "Women are like magnets, always attractive" or "A woman is like a magnet, always attractive." The tool here is parallel construction, which means that when things in a sentence have equal weight or importance, you style them the same way to show this.

  • so what if I compare with some entity for which the plural doesn't sound correct? Eg. : "Women are like the universe, all so mysterious" (Note that scientifically, I CAN use "universes", but just doesn't sound right, does it?) And the above sentence is still grammatically correct, isn't it? – Vandesh Oct 14 '13 at 9:06
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"Being like" does not imply a number of things on both side, not even that they are quantifiable.

There is no rule of grammar, but, fortunately, absence of any rule.

Both your sentences are all right for me.

"Women are like the sea, ever changing". "The clouds were like the sea, grey". "The herbs of the meadow were like the solitary tree in their middle, of exactly the same hue of green".

Why these sentences should be grammatically incorrect ? (Well, the first on is opened for discussion)

  • "absence of rule" - exactly my point! Thanks. – Vandesh Oct 10 '13 at 13:16
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    Your sentence "Why these sentences should be grammatically incorrect ?" is grammatically incorrect! – TrevorD Oct 10 '13 at 23:35
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Not having a rule for a specific example doesn't mean having no rules for general. Plurality and singularity have to be consistent in a sentence. This rule applies in nearly all of the languages; just with minor differences. (Like if the subject is not human, then the objects or the verbs can be formed singular, etc..)

So in this case; it should be "women are like magnets". The other way is very well ok for street language; which is not strict about grammar rules.

Examples like "women are like the sea" are far different than the "magnets" example. Because it's clear that you are not actually comparing to seas; you actually compare it conceptually; otherwise you should have said "women are like seas".

Edit note: Some people somewhat might have been offended by the definition "street language"; this is not used for disdaining; it's implied for formal and informal distinction only.

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