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I'm Soumya, an author from India.

A reader has challenged me about the use of the word 'hairs' in my book. I have used, 'a few hairs' and that's justified, as hair is a countable noun in that very phrase. But I'm at a confusion for some other sentences. Could you kindly tell me if I'm wrong grammatically?

  1. "The evening zephyr ruffled their long flowing hairs - the Indian village girl's shiny, black hair, and Audrey's curly blonde hair."

  2. "They had golden or brown or ashen hairs."

  3. "His black and white hairs had now turned into complete white."

Could you please help? Thank you!

  • Sometimes you just have to take it all with a bit of amusement. When a friend says "I see you got your hair cut" (I get it cut about once a year, whether it needs it or not), I generally reply "More than one!" The English language, if you have the right attitude (ie, don't take it too seriously), is a never-ending source of fun and amusement. – Hot Licks Jul 10 '15 at 12:03
  • I think it should be "... Completely white" – Shashi Sinha Sep 2 at 3:33
  • In those instances, yes, it's grammatically wrong. – Benjamin Harman Sep 2 at 3:42
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Many nouns in English have a plural form either with an s/es ending or without. Hair vs hairs is one of the many plural issues.

Hair can be a singular, plural, or collective noun depending on the context.

Usage suggestions -

  • They had golden or brown or ashen hair."
  • His black and white hair had now turned into complete white

Usage notes - (wiki)

The word hair is usually used without article in singular number when it refers to all the hairs on one's head in general. But if it refers to more than one hair, a few hairs, then it takes the plural form without an article, and needs a plural verb.

  • George has brown hair, but I found a hair on the sofa and suspect he's getting some gray hairs.

    George's hair is brown, but one hair I found was grey, so I think there are probably more grey hairs on his head as well.

1

I agree with your reader.

1. "The evening zephyr ruffled their long flowing hairs - the Indian village girl's shiny, black hair, and Audrey's curly blonde hair." (incorrect)

Possible rewrite:

"The evening zephyr ruffled their long flowing hair - the Indian village girl's, shiny and black and Audrey's, curly and blonde."

Others might disagree.

2. "They had golden or brown or ashen hairs." (incorrect)

"They had golden or brown or ashen hair." (correct)

3. "His black and white hairs had now turned into complete white."

This could be correct depending on what you mean. It seems to indicate that he had many different colours and that just the black ones or the white ones had changed. Either that or each hair was striped, black and white.

I think you mean: "His black and white hair had now turned into complete white."

  • 1
    Re 3: A commonly used phase for hair that is a mix of black/dark and white/grey is salt and pepper. "His salt and pepper hair had now turned completely white. – mikeagg Jul 10 '15 at 12:48

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