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I asked someone to review this sentence and they said that the word artifact should be plural:

We interact with any number and variety of artifact in our daily lives....

I can see where the word number would cause it to be plural, I accept their rationale for why it should be plural, but for some reason it strikes me better as singular. How incorrect am I? What are the reasons?

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    Yea if should be plural. Change the word to some other noun. Try “person/people” we interact with any number of person in our daily lives... Definitely plural. – Jim Jul 17 '16 at 0:49
  • @Jim that is the very argument my reviewer made -- they used the example of "penny" vs. "pennies". – paul Jul 17 '16 at 1:08
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The word artifact (also artefact) takes its original meaning from the Latin ars (art) and the neuter past participle factum of the verb facere (to make). Thus something made by human construction or something artificial. The OED finds the earliest usage from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Literary Remains:

Well! a lump of sugar of lead [lead acetate (Pb(CH3COO)2)] lies among other artefacts on the shelf of a collector; and with it a label, “Take care! this is not sugar, though it looks so, but crystallized oxide of lead, and it is a deadly poison.”

So the poison is one artefact among a number of artefacts, and in such a countable context the plural is required. The OED supplement finds a second, later (from 1908) meaning in "technical and medical use" meaning some extraneous "product or effect" not found in the natural state of something under investigation. The examples taken from the 1961 British Medical Dictionary include from histology, the contamination from reagents; from EEG studies, signals originating from electrical sources other than brain activity; and in dermatology, self-inflicted skin damage.

In the later usage, artifact is a collective, non-countable noun, and the British Medical Dictionary illustrates the variety of artifact. But a non-countable usage isn't compatible with numeration, so the presence of the phrasing number ... of precludes the singular.

  • Aha! I must have been focused on the collective form of the word, so that's why it sounded correct. Indeed, the enumerable usage would require pluralization. Thanks! – paul Jul 17 '16 at 1:06
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It needs to be plural here I think. I know some words can be both a concept and an object, like the word "art", and we can use as concept, to say that art comes in many varieties. Or as object, to say works of arts come in many varieties. But I think artifact is not one of those words.

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    Thinking is not only permitted here; it's encouraged. And your thinking is mostly correct, certainly as regards the the number of the noun in the OP. But posters of questions are loath to rely solely on the thinking of answerers of those questions. It's not that I'm so damn clever -- I just looked it up. You've clearly got a grasp of noun usage. I look forward to your next answer. – deadrat Jul 17 '16 at 3:11
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    As deadrat says, this is intuitively a very reasonable answer—but the goal of English Language & Usage is to go beyond intuitively reasonable answers to (when possible) formally supported and corroborated answers that cite reference authorities. That expectation, I think, accounts for the downvotes that this answer has received. – Sven Yargs Jul 19 '16 at 16:34

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