Assume there are multiple books on a shelf. At least one book is red. At least one book is blue.

Sentence in dispute:

Some of the books are red.

Is this sentence false if only one book is red?

A non-native English speaker says this sentence must be false because the verb is plural (“are”), and so it is true only if there are at least two red books.

But a native speaker of English says that the sentence is true.

Which view is correct?

  • 1
    some is plural. There must be more than one red book. Otherwise you'd say (at least) one of the books. I can't imagine a native speaker producing/interpreting it any other way. – guifa Sep 30 '14 at 5:05
  • @guifa Hmm. 'Some of the book is in French and some in German'. 'I didn't eat all the cheese, I only ate some'. I'm not sure about the plural there ... – Araucaria Sep 30 '14 at 12:47
  • @araucaria I guess I should have clarified within the context of countables. In you examples you've changed the object to singular though and I think effectively changes the nouns to a pseudo-uncountable. some of the books will normally be interpreted as some number of individual books, rather than portions of them individually. some of the book can't be divided down, not unlike some of the water or some of the sand. – guifa Sep 30 '14 at 14:41

"Some of the books are red" implies, to my ear, that more than one book is red. To argue that the sentence is true if exactly one book is red seems an overzealous* application of logic to language.

(*) It's pretty clear that human language is not strictly logical: in English we've accepted a rule against double negatives, but in many languages a negative sentence will be ungrammatical unless it contains a double negative.

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