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Our team has prepared five technical reports that we are going to present to a review committee tomorrow. Each report is very long (about 20 pages). I want to communicate to my colleagues that we should prepare a one-liner description for each report. Here are the two alternative sentences I have.

Alternative 1:

I need one-liner descriptions for all five reports we are going to present tomorrow.

Alternative 2:

I need one-liner description for all five reports we are going to present tomorrow.

The difference in the two alternatives is the usage of the word "descriptions" vs. "description". Is singular-form the right choice for a sentence like this, or should I use the plural-form?

Note: The above specific scenario and sentence is a scenario I have cooked up to demonstrate my problem. I am interested to understand the singular vs. plural not just for this sentence but in general for any sentences like these which contain a phrase of the form "<noun1> of <noun2>" where "<noun2>" is plural and I need to decide if "<noun1>" should be written in singular or plural form?

  • "I need a one-line description for each of the five reports we are going to present tomorrow." – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 at 14:09
  • @EdwinAshworth That's definitely one way to write the sentence. However, if I had to choose between alternative 1 and alternative 2, which one is grammatically correct? – Lone Learner Jul 8 at 14:54
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    Do you want five one-line descriptions, or do you want one single one-liner that explains all of them at once? – Damila Jul 8 at 15:07
  • You're missing an article (a) in alternative 2... but it's incorrect anyway; you'll get one one liner to summarize five reports. – Tinfoil Hat Jul 8 at 15:16
  • (1) is grammatical but unacceptable as it violates the Gricean maxim relating to non-ambiguity. At least three descriptions for each report? Two, each covering all five reports? // (2) needs an 'a' before 'one-...'. But it would still be unacceptable as ambiguous. Some situations are, and need rephrasing. I like bacon and eggs and beans and sausage. All on one plate? Two different meals? Are you just saying what foodstuffs you've found in the kitchen you like? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 at 15:19
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You should use 'Alternative 1' if you need a description for each report, which is what you wanted. Only use the other one if you need a description for the five reports, as a whole. I shall explain. In 'Alternative 1', you said you needed 'one-liner descriptions for all five reports'. This means that you need more than one description for the five reports. In 'Alternative 2', you said you needed 'one-liner description for all five reports'. This means that you only need one description for the five reports. I was just checking back on this post and saw Edwin Ashworth's comment: "I need a one-line description for each of the five reports we are going to present tomorrow." I suggest you use his suggestion as it is more clear and direct.

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The least ambiguous way to say this would be:

I need a one-liner description for each of the five reports we are going to present tomorrow.

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