I want to represent the idea that when handling exceptions there can be one or more catch blocks:

The catch block(s) contain code to handle thrown exceptions.

Which form is preferred to use here if two scenarios are possible – singular or plural? Should the verb be contains or contain?

  • Would you say the S inside the parentheses if you were reading the sentence out loud? If yes, then it is quite obviously plural and so it takes the plural verb. If not, then — wait, what do you mean you wouldn’t say the S in parentheses?!
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:51
  • Oh, and also keep in mind that only 1 is singular in English. Everything else — everything else — is plural. Including zero, one point one, and minus one. Everything that is not exactly one is plural. And block(s) is quite obviously not exactly one.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:58
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt So -1 are the square of i? Are you sure no one are going to disagree?
    – deadrat
    Nov 21, 2016 at 20:23
  • @deadrat haha you are right. Maybe he didn't mean the complex numbers.
    – DimaSan
    Nov 21, 2016 at 20:31
  • @deadrat And -2 are the square route of one! And 12 are the square route of 144! Nov 22, 2016 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


Just write it out in full without these punctuational shorthands, as though you were speaking it.

This will unfailingly guide you to the correct answer:

The 𝚌𝚊𝚝𝚌𝚑 block or blocks contain code to handle thrown exceptions.

When it comes to actual language, speech alone is primary; writing is merely a technological accident.

You never need punctuational shorthand. It cannot be spoken—and how something is said is all that matters. The grammar is established by the spoken language alone. Writing is not part of grammar.

  • OP doesn't really give enough context, but if it's important to convey that a single "program" can contain one or more catch blocks, that (syntactically plural) noun phrase could easily be included. Nov 21, 2016 at 14:26
  • thank you for respond @tchrist. As I understand a plural form is preferable here. But I need that punctuational shorthand -(s) here to show that not only one block is possible. Can you clarify a bit please.
    – DimaSan
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:26
  • 2
    There is no answer beyond what tchrist has given you, I'm afraid, DimaSan. The problem is that "block(s)" is not part of English: it is part of technical written English, which is a different language some of whose grammar is not yet established.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:34
  • I understand what you mean. I never need punctuational shorthands in the speaking language – it is quite clear, but if I write an instruction which is documentary, and it's better to be as shorter and stricter as possible, then how it is better to write?
    – DimaSan
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:36

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