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Consider someone mentioning "a bacteria", where the number of the pronoun article doesn't match that of the noun.

I suppose one could say there's disagreement in number, or the pronoun article doesn't match the noun but I have always described it as a singular/plural mismatch (or sometimes as a singular-plural mismatch) - which generally gets the idea across.

But it seems to be a slightly clumsy phrase -- and I am often helping people fix their writing (in several contexts), many of whom don't have English as a first language.

It would be handy to have a term that is both shorter and clearer than that three word phrase. Failing that either a shorter or a clearer/simpler term might be useful in some situations.

For example, I'd like to have some other choices for ways to say "Your first sentence has a singular-plural mismatch", either by replacing the last three words or by replacing that term and rephrasing the sentence as a whole.

  • Is there a more standard term for this?

  • Is there a shorter term? (I don't necessarily seek a single word here)

  • Is there a term that while not necessarily shorter might be simpler/plainer (e.g. that might be more readily understood by people who may not have a solid command of English)?

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The phrase "a bacteria" does not contain a pronoun. The problem is the combination of the indefinite article a (which can only precede a singular noun) with the plural noun bacteria.

The standard term for the matching between elements of a sentence is agreement or concord. The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (p19) defines agreement as follows:

A morphosyntactic phenomenon whereby two (or more) elements in a clause or sentence are harmonized in terms of the shape† they take, e.g. with regard to person, number or gender. Also called concord.

Shape is defined elsewhere in the dictionary as equivalent in written English to spelling. So, bacterium and bacteria have different shapes.

The lack of agreement in this case a number disagreement between the article and the noun. I'm not aware of a single word or specific term to identify this kind of mistake.

If one of my English learners made such a mistake I would simply say that you cannot put a (or the indefinite article) in front of a plural noun. If I were marking up a piece of writing for student self-correction, I would highlight the phrase as: number agreement error.

  • Yes, sorry, I did indeed mean the indefinite article. That's what I get for posting when I'm tired. – Glen_b May 1 '16 at 8:52
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I have often heard "number agreement" to describe the goal of matching the article to the noun.

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A standard term is 'subject-verb [dis]agreement'.

Another term would be '{phrase} parity [error]'. (Agreement is accomplished by adding a plural phoneme to the verb {predicate} when the subject lacks a plural morpheme)

  • In the case of your first suggestion: for example, if the original passage has "I see a bacteria" as opposed to one of "I see a bacterium" or "I see some bacteria", the verb (see) is the same in each case. Can you explain how the verb comes into it? – Glen_b Apr 30 '16 at 0:12
  • The verb agrees with the subject, not the object. Agreement also requires a 3rd person subject and a non-preterite, non-modal verb. – AmI May 2 '16 at 20:45
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This forum has used the term "plurality" to discuss this issue. See Plurality of a group also referenced using we/our/us, so perhaps "plurality mismatch" or "plurality disagreement" would be descriptive.

plurality

grammar: the state of being plural

--Merriam Webster

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