This Guardian article titled "William Wordsworth review – inspiration and smoking chimneys" has this passage:

It is 14 years since the publication of Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth’s income from writing scarcely sustains his Grasmere household: sister Dorothy; sister-in-law Sara; wife Mary (who never appears) and their five children. Smoking chimneys and cold rooms are not merely inconveniences, they are dangers to health. Two of the children die.


In the boldfaced sentence, can inconveniences and dangers be replaced with their respective singular counterparts as follows?

Smoking chimneys and cold rooms are not merely an inconvenience, they are a danger to health.

If that's possible, which is more natural, the plural forms or the singular forms?

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure what nature has to do with it, but the plural is more logical. Smoking chimneys, which belch particulates into the air both inside and out, and cold rooms, cold — and damp — when the chimneys aren't smoking, are mutually exclusive, thus represent related but separate dangers to health.

  • Should stress that the singular would be illogical. Dec 21, 2017 at 9:51
  • @WillCrawford I didn't know that the English usage--or any language usage for that matter--is based on "logic", though.
    – JK2
    Dec 22, 2017 at 3:02
  • True, but it helps immensely if you realise most grammar rules are about making sure the sentence makes sense :) Dec 22, 2017 at 3:17

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