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I'm not sure what is the best title for this question. For example, Which of the followings is grammatically correct?

(1) people with high IQs

or

(2) people with a high IQ

and why?

if (2) is correct, does it mean that we can say "plural A with singular B" if every A has only one B?

  • Still not sure which one is correct. (2) appears more often according to Google – DataHungry Feb 13 '16 at 5:09
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Both are grammatically correct (depending on the rest of the sentences they're embedded in), but only #1 makes sense in this case.

Let me give a different example that might help more:

A. The employees have computers.

vs

B. The employees have a computer.

In example A, the employees have multiple computers. This often, but not always, implies that the employees each have at least one computer.

In example B, the employees jointly have at least one (but probably just one) computer. But this does not carry the each implication that example A does.

When it comes to IQ, multiple people cannot jointly have IQ scores, so the type of construction in example B doesn't make sense. You use the type of construction in example A instead, and the reader/listener will naturally understand this as meaning "people who each have a high IQ".

See below for Edwin's notes in the comments about idiomatic usage, I may be coming at this from a bit of a purist angle.

  • I agree that both are grammatically correct, but feel that the OP's second example could make sense if the indefinite article suggests a range of IQ scores. "Persons with a high IQ" do not all have the same score, but may all share membership in an upper echelon. – Rob_Ster Feb 8 '16 at 17:45
  • The employes all have a computer. – Peter Shor Feb 8 '16 at 18:54
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    Usage trumps what might be said to be logic. 'The number of people bearing a grudge against the General was growing.' can be found as an internet example where it is hardly a communal grudge (though it might be for just one reason). Idioms can disobey logical rules of agreement. And 'people with a high IQ' occurs reasonably frequently on the internet; while not really being an idiom, it (and similar constructions, such as 'men with a full head of hair' and 'men with a history of mental illness') are idiomatic. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 8 '16 at 23:17
  • Surely, if people cannot jointly have IQ scores, then the construction in B is the only one that does make sense - each person has a single, individual, IQ score. Construction A, in contrast, suggests that each individual has several IQs. This may hold if you follow the fashion of multiple intelligences, but not for this question. – Roaring Fish Feb 9 '16 at 0:23
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    @ba_ul (1) I can't be confident that there is an inviolable rule, but I'd use 'People with two cars / People with one car' to achieve more precision than 'People with cars' etc. (2) I don't find either "people whose startups have matured" or "people whose startup has matured" a familiar phrase, and neither does Google. I'd say the former sounds less unnatural (though I'm not claiming either to be unacceptable). But, if you need to disambiguate, you may have to use the latter. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 '16 at 23:46

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