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Is "the difference" in

What's the difference between ... ?"

a collective noun? It seems to be a singular noun, but often the answer of that question is in plural form.

Example:

What's the difference between desktop PC and notebook?

  1. x
  2. x
  3. x

In above question, why should we use "the difference" instead of "the differences" ?

  • 'What's the difference between X and Y?' (assuming we don't mean the numerical difference) is used (a) when there is only a single point in which they differ, (b) when there is only a single salient difference, (c) when the questioner is being imprecise and really should ask ''What are the differences between X and Y?' and (d) when some dire joke is about to be inflicted upon some poor wight. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 25 '15 at 15:33
  • No, it is not a collective noun. See definition dictionary.reference.com/browse/collective-noun – rogermue Dec 25 '15 at 23:40
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It is not a collective noun.

A collective noun would be of the form "a whole parcel of differences" (I was trying to think of a good collective for differences, and ... my imagination failed me).

Or "a murder of crows". ("What do you call one crow alone in a tree? Attempted murder").

"What's" is a contraction of "What is". The question is "What is the difference between...".

Equally valid would be "What are the differences between...".

The exact choice depends on your viewpoint when you ask the question - are you expecting one large difference, or several smaller differences?

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