After the therapy, eight children (43%) became able to crawl/move on their back.

Or should I use "on their backs"?

Singular because each child only has one back, or plural because we're dealing with eight backs?


Plural, because we are, in fact, dealing with eight little backs. And a back is a back, no matter how small. A child has a back, but children have backs.

I'm sure others will back me on this.

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    Not relevant - if several children owned a single turtle between them, it would be "their turtle", not "their turtles". – lotsoffreetime Mar 6 '11 at 17:49
  • @user653: But the OP is not talking about a shared turtle. – Robusto Mar 6 '11 at 18:01
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    @Robusto, I think the point @user653 was making is that the fact that "their" is plural does not automatically imply that the word following it has to be plural too. – Hellion Mar 6 '11 at 18:24
  • @Hellion: Ah, I see. @user653 must be responding to @Fountain, not to my post itself. – Robusto Mar 6 '11 at 18:31
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    @Robusto: also, you forgot to mention that while children have backs, baby got back. :-) – Hellion Mar 6 '11 at 18:46

The semantic, grammatical, and logical arguments clearly suggest it's 'correct' to use the plural, and that's what most people do.

However, despite the fact that I doubt if any style guide endorses the singular, it seems that about 10% of usages for back persist in using the singular.

For reasons which escape me, that 'incorrect' minority rises to nearly 25% when the body part in question is chest. In both cases the evidence strongly suggests the incorrect usage is becoming more widespread.

Personally I believe it's a situation where grammarians backed the wrong horse, and their blind prescriptivism will eventually be defeated. People quite naturally want to use the singular when the number of [body parts, whatever] is immaterial, and only the plurality of [babies, people] is relevant. Increasingly, it seems, they're prepared to do this even at the risk of being considered illiterate. .

  • Great explanation fumble. So, you are saying that it is more natural to use the singular in this case in spite of the grammatical rule, right? – Fadli Sheikh Aug 19 at 23:33

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