There is a saying in Bioshock which goes like this:

No Gods or Kings. Only Man.

Why do they use the singular "man" and not the plural "men"?

Ok, I know that man = mankind. The saying could go like this as well

No God or King. Only Man.

but it doesn't. For the first two words the plural form is used, why not for "man"?

Edit: Maybe this is not a question about the language but rather one about the meaning in the game's context.

Screenshot from the game is shown

  • 4
    Yes, I understand your question. I am asking: did you look up the singular form in a dictionary? If so, did you find any relevant definitions. If you haven't, go do that now. (Just trust me on this, ok?)
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:45
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    There were dozens of Greek gods, but only one Mankind.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 23, 2017 at 11:50
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    Willi, are you saying one's belief system determines whether or not the Greeks had multiple gods?
    – Davo
    Jun 23, 2017 at 12:25
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    Ignoring capitalisation issues and the matter of whether dogs can have anything akin to religious devotion, you could quite reasonably say My dog cares nothing for Gods or Kings. He worships only Man. In which context the plural form (Men) could be used instead, but arguably it would have a different nuance - he likes [every?] man he's ever met, rather than mankind as a species. Jun 23, 2017 at 12:27
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    @WilliMentzel Davo's point is that the Greeks incontestably had multiple gods. Whether those gods were real or mere notions is immaterial to that fact. Gods can be plural, kings can be plural, but mankind is unique.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 23, 2017 at 12:37

3 Answers 3


Man is being used as a singular collective term describing all of humanity.

I believe that the point is that "Gods" and "Kings" would be separate entities (or special distinctions) that would be distinguished within mankind or distinct from mankind. The point of the phrase is to say there is only one group, "Man", and no important other distinctions or hierarchies.

  • 1
    I see some parallel between this banner and a rejection of polytheism in favor of monotheism, with the difference here being that instead of a single deity mankind itself is set in the place of highest reverence. Pluralizing "Gods or Kings" adds to this theme of unification. Jun 23, 2017 at 16:45
  • Yes, but I'm my opinion this more likely refers to a pluralism of different religions, rather than the specifics of any particular religion.
    – PV22
    Jun 23, 2017 at 17:23
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    It might be worth mentioning that in the question's picture "man" has the intention of meaning "man-kind", a term with closer resemblance to the word in question.
    – Daevin
    Jun 23, 2017 at 18:51

A passage from Anthem by Ayn Rand:

At first, man was enslaved by the gods. But he broke their chains. Then he was enslaved by the kings. But he broke their chains. He was enslaved by his birth, by his kin, by his race. But he broke their chains. He declared to all his brothers that a man has rights which neither god nor king nor other men can take away from him, no matter what their number, for his is the right of man, and there is no right on earth above this right. And he stood on the threshold of freedom for which the blood of the centuries behind him had been spilled.

The quote is based on the principle of Objectivism (proposed by Ayn Rand) which focusses on the importance of freedom from all kinds of authority for true happiness. Man is pitted against gods, kings and his fellow men.

  • 1
    This is a great reference. Nice job.
    – PV22
    Jun 24, 2017 at 11:29
  • I think the term man is used as a shortened form of mankind which is why it's man and not men
    – A. L
    Jun 25, 2017 at 23:56

It is true that the narrative elements of the game are heavily influenced by Objectivism as @peerless suggests. Arguably, the narrative is a critique of Objectivism, or at least, "It's about what happens when ideals meet reality."

it was hard for people to understand exactly what I meant by "utopia." I didn't mean a place where everyone holds hands. [...] They started building a hospital, and I said, "No no no, it has to be thirty competing businesses, really crass advertisement." [...] There's no central administration. Everything's about competing businesses.

The game is full of "crass advertising" that is often totally unveiled propaganda for the point of view of the particular faction.

Though "man" is often used for "mankind," the singular "man" in this particular case is intentional and reflects a sort of militant Individualism that the underwater utopia was built upon (the Ryan faction).


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