I've been wondering, since these example numbers end with 1, isn't it natural to use the following noun in its singular form?

From what I've been seeing around on the web this does not seem to be the case. All numbers except for 1 are followed by plural nouns.

In some languages you do need to use the singular form with the numbers ending with 1.

How is it supposed to be in English?

  • 4
    I'm also surprised by the amount of downvotes: 8 downvotes! The question is valid and good. In Russian we use singular endings if the preceding numeral ends in one: "61 passenger boarded the ship". Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 8:28
  • The question about 'the rule' is very basic, perhaps too basic for ELL even, and is easily answered by basic research. The question of WHY English uses plural verb forms for any [numeral + NP] where the numeral is other than 1 is possibly unanswerable (other than with punts like 'it's more logical'). Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 10:40

2 Answers 2


In English, the singular is used for one thing, and the plural is generally used for anything else, as detailed in this Wikipedia article. This includes more than one (any counting number), as well as zero.

  • 2
    +1; To add to this answer, the last digit is irrelevant. 21 does not get special treatment because of the 1. English cares about quantity; not the 1 in and of itself.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 15:33
  • And 21₁₀ = 210₃ = 33₆ = 30₇ =25₈ = 23₉ =1X₁₁ = ... while 111₁₀ = 6F₁₆ .... The numerals corresponding to a given counting number change depending on the base chosen. It would seem illogical to switch the verb form with mode of writing the same number. 12/a dozen eggs were laid. Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 10:34
  • Also, negative numbers are plural, including negative one. "The website shows that my account has negative one dollars".
    – jimm101
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 16:32
  • The number bases (₁₀ , ₃ , ₆ , ₇ , ₈ , ₉ , ₁₁ , ₁₀ & ₁₆ respectively) (all written in denary) should be right subscripted. Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 15:13

Plural means more than 1. (Well, something like that. You can also have 0 items, which is less than 1, but still given the plural form.)

If you have 21 of something, then you have more than 1 of it.

The plural form of item is items.

So the correct way is 21 items.

  • 1
    F'x's answer is more correct. Negative numbers also use plurals. The only thing that gets a singular is exactly one.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 15:32
  • Isn't -1 also singular?
    – aslum
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 17:17
  • 2
    @aslum: I can sort of be: "You have -1 item" is OK, but "you have -1 items" is also valid. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 17:33

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