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In the following sentence, which should I use, singular phone or plural phones?

Most people have (a) smartphone(s) nowadays.

I think singular is correct, because using plural makes it sounds like most people are possessing two or more phones, which is obviously not true.

What happens if I use “the” instead of “a”, in reference to a specific type of smartphone (iPhone12, for example), or if I use singular “Everyone” instead of plural “Most people”?

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  • It would be much more idiomatic to say most people if you are referring to people in general and not a specific group. – Kate Bunting Feb 6 at 11:52
  • Just to be clear, "most people have a smartphone" does not mean exactly one smartphone, so someone who has more than one is still counted among most people. – Phil Sweet Feb 6 at 14:15
  • Does your native language lack plural nouns in the normal inflectional sense of that term, like horses and mice? I ask because these sorts of questions often come from English Language Learners whose mother tongue lacks the concept, and who therefore have no intuitive grasp for how to use these in languages that possess them. – tchrist Feb 6 at 14:41
  • Yes. My native tongue is Japanese, which completely lacks grammatical numbers. I always get muddled up with singular/plural. – FocusSash Feb 7 at 15:04
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You are correct: singular is fine.

Otherwise one is thinking about this wrong. Let’s say that you write:

  1. Nowadays most people have a handheld computer, one that sometimes even makes phone calls if they’re lucky.

In (1), you would not think that meant that they all share one single unit held in common by the entire lot of them. Otherwise they couldn’t call each other.

Or here:

  1. Most people use the right hand to write with.

In (2), that hand would sure get a lot of use if there were only one hand to go around.

  1. Everybody eventually calls somebody.

In (3), you would not imagine that that one same somebody gets a whole lot of calls from everybody.

Therefore it is perfectly common to say things like most people have a street address or everyone has a mother.

If you absolutely have to do so for clarity's sake, you can sometimes use apiece or each to reinforce the distributive nature.

  1. All people have two parents apiece, and most also have four grandparents each, but if you go back far enough, the numbers are guaranteed to stop adding up.
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  • I hadn't found it, thanks. – tchrist Feb 6 at 14:21
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If you start your sentence with "Most of the people", which is a plural noun phrase, naturally it has to be followed by a plural noun "smartphones":

Most of the people have smartphones nowadays.

This sentence does not indicate that each person possesses two or more smartphones. It's just saying that the number of smartphones each person has adds up to a number more than one.

How many smartphones each individual has is not indicated in that sentence. If you would like to say that most of the people have smartphones and that each person may either have one smartphone or more than one, you could say:

Everyone has at least one smartphone nowadays.

Here, as you already know, "everyone" is singular i.e. it refers to each single person instead of a whole bunch of them, so you can be more specific on how many / at least how many / up to how many smartphones each person has.

And yes, "the" can be used when you're referring to a specific type of smartphone:

  • Most of the people use the iPhone 12 nowadays.
  • Everyone uses the iPhone 12 nowadays.

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