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I've been searching and I'ye yet to encounter many "Rationales" (Plural) but "Rationale" (Singular). Is it grammatically correct to write "There are several rationales behind my belief that history classes should be taught"?

With the same example above, can I use rationale in place of reason?

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Generally speaking, rationale is used to describe a set of beliefs.

From Merriam-Webster (emphasis mine):

: an explanation of controlling principles of opinion, belief, practice, or phenomena

And from Oxford Dictionaries (emphasis mine):

A set of reasons or a logical basis for a course of action or belief.

Based on that meaning, if you are following a belief system that includes several principles or reasons, you would use the singular rationale or rephrase your sentence:

There is a rationale behind my belief that history classes should be taught.
There are several reasons behind my belief that history classes should be taught.


However, it's possible that you are actually talking about something that is supported by two different rationales:

Let's look at two different rationales for the preservation of life: religion and law.

In this case, it's quite correct to use the plural rationales. But, if that's what you actually mean, you will want to clarify that in the sentence itself, or in a sentence that follows, so it's clear it's not a misuse of the word.

For example:

There are a couple of rationales behind my belief that history classes should be taught. One involves the education system and the other the psychology of group learning.


Without further context, it's not possible to determine which of the two situations applies to your sentence. Depending on what you're trying to describe, either the singular or the plural may be correct.

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  • I find the use of the word 'behind' odd. If you look at the Oxford dictionaries quoted above, for example, you will '...reasons for..." The use of 'behind' carries the suggestion that the belief that history should be taught has some reasons that are hidden , unless you really do want to talk about such covert reasons, I suggest 'for' would be the more neutral word to use.
    – JeremyC
    Nov 1, 2018 at 22:51
  • @JeremyC I mostly agree. (As does Google.) In the sentence I composed, I used for, not behind. But I kept behind elsewhere because I was deliberately modifying the original sentence as little as possible. Nov 1, 2018 at 23:41
  • A very reasonable thing to do. My comment implied no criticism of your answer.
    – JeremyC
    Nov 2, 2018 at 8:01
  • Wow thank you JasonBassford and JeremyC for such good explanations. Further to this discussion, can I ask for the structural sense of an essay? So after explaining that 'One involves the education system and the other the psychology of group learning', how do I structure the arguments? After the sentence (one involves...), can I write 'In relation to the educational system, A (1990) argues that... ?
    – vee_n_vee
    Nov 2, 2018 at 12:17
  • @vee_n_vee Yes, what you suggest works. But if you want something more detailed, that's a good separate question for the writing.stackexchange.com site. Nov 2, 2018 at 13:28
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The "rationale" is the set of principles which underpin some argument. In this respect, using "rationales" as a plural to explain a single item (i.e. the belief mentioned in the example) is incorrect, as the "rationale" (singular) can include multiple "reasons". I would simplify it by using "reasons" in the sentence above, or rewrite it to indicate that the rationale includes multiple reasons, although that sounds a bit forced.

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