Here's one for the English professors:

I originally came across this problem when answering a question here. We all know that tense refers to the temporal form of a verb. "Act, acted, will act, has acted, will have acted" - these are all examples of tense.

Tense is a classification of form.

Another type of form is the singular or plural nature of a noun.

However, if we use the word "form" without specifying it as "singular form" or "plural form," it is vague - form by itself can imply tense, singularity / plurality, or even whether we are using a word in its noun form, verb form, adjective form, or adverb form.

The word "number" is the closest thing I have found to a real answer, BUT if we say

The 'number' of the subject noun is plural.

this sounds extremely confusing and vague, at least to me, because 'number' implies a specific value.

So unless we have a technical term in this context, we have a 'number' of choices (no pun intended):

  1. Numerical Form
  2. Numeral Form
  3. Numeric Form
  4. Numerality (this seems to work, but I have never heard it used that way)
  5. Plurality ('The plurality of the subject is singular' doesn't quite work as I read it.)

I finally settled on using 'numerical form,' but I'm still a bit confused in this situation. Does anyone (possibly someone with a degree in English or an English teacher) have a textbook / definitively correct answer for this?

Thank you for and insight you may be able to provide.

  • Actually "tense" is best regarded as a classification of "use", not form. "Number" is the usual term for the grammatical contrast of singular v plural, as with most nouns (cat vs cats), and is usually used in connection with verb agreement. NP subjects are said to be 'singular' or 'plural. – BillJ Mar 9 '16 at 16:05
  • Thank you - this definitely clarifies a bit. As funny as it sounds to say this, I'm a writer and not an English expert. I'm more concerned with practicality, comprehensibility, and readability than rules and technicality, so when something like this comes up, it sometimes causes me to shake my head in confusion. – Adam Hayes Mar 9 '16 at 16:09

Your Answer

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

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.