3

I found myself discussing the eating activity of my cats with... my cats. Anyway, I said to them "Huh, you two didn't eat your breakfasts!" At this point, I paused, realizing that sounded very odd to me.

If multiple people each have a breakfast, are there "breakfasts present", or is it just "breakfast"? Either way, why does "breakfasts" sound so bizarre to my ear?

6
  • Because when you call the kids to come and eat, you say "Come on! Breakfast is ready!", but you still give them a breakfast each, so you must have had several ready. Nov 7 '14 at 18:41
  • "Dinners are on the table!" - ??? Nov 7 '14 at 18:42
  • Would you then say "Your breakfasts are ready."? It seems like with the possessive it would be correct, but no one says that. Nov 7 '14 at 18:42
  • 3
    Breakfast is the name of the event as well as the food eaten at the event. It sounds strange to pluralize it because usually we speak about the event and not the food.
    – Oldcat
    Nov 7 '14 at 18:49
  • 2
    I'm sure a restaurant owner might ask the cooks "How many breakfasts did you serve this morning?" (Would certainly make more sense than "How much breakfast did you serve this morning?")
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 8 '14 at 4:27
12

To talk about several people each doing the same thing, English usually prefers a plural noun for the repeated idea.

Tell the kids to bring raincoats to school tomorrow.
(More natural than Tell the kids to bring a raincoat ...)

Plural forms are almost always used in this case if here are possessives.

Tell the children to blow their noses. (NOT ... to blow their nose.)

Six people lost their lives in the accident.

Michael Swan (2005.530), Practical English Usage.

However, for an activity done together, the singular form is natural. Compare:

When I was working, my wife and I had (our) breakfast together. Now that I am retired, she has left for work before I get up, so we have our breakfasts separately.

If your cats had separate plates, I would use the plural form. If they ate from one plate, I think both singular and plural are possible. We can think of each cat having its own breakfast - two cats, two breakfasts - or of the two cats sharing a singular meal together.

1
  • Woot! Great explanation. +1 Nov 7 '14 at 20:03
4

It is one of those words where you have to determine from the context if plural or singular is appropriate.

The whole family sat down to eat breakfast.

Here "breakfast" refers to the communal meal.

Joe ate eggs, mom had cereal, dad had cold pizza. All the breakfasts were different.

Here we are referring to the individual food on people's plates, so plural would be appropriate. And just to be clear the plural is "breakfasts" even if the word is a little tricky to say.

So did your feline friends eat together in a shared meal, or separately each individually? I think that would mostly be the determining factor as to whether they had breakfast or breakfasts.

3
  • They ate separately. So I suppose the plural was correct? Nov 7 '14 at 18:57
  • 1
    If they had two plates, one each at the same time, either the singular (for the event) or plural (for the plates) is correct.
    – Oldcat
    Nov 7 '14 at 19:10
  • 1
    @Oldcat I have nothing constructive to say here but it's obvious from your username that you are experienced in the subject being asked about. Nov 8 '14 at 9:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.