For example, which of these two sentences is the correct one:

... the train started moving, making us all lose our balance.


... the train started moving, making us all lose our balances

  • 1
    You could look up Google 3-grams for "lost their balance" and "lost their balances". With this one, the distributive singular is a must. As with 'We all held our breath'. Nov 12, 2021 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


When the word is reckoned with as having at most a unique referent for each individual it is usual to keep the word in the singuar. This can be verified for the following words and others.

However, when the word can be reckoned with as having more than one referent for each individual, then the plural tends to be more frequent, this, along the line of a gradient according to the greater plausibility of more than one referent. In the case where several referents are involved for each person the plural must be used. It is not clear whether the plural might not be used also sometimes when there is a unique referent.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • Interest?? Not always.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 12, 2021 at 21:15
  • Words are not "conceived as having a unique referent for each individual". That is just meaningless in English. A person can have a concern or concerns (two different meanings). Only context will tell. Some nouns like balance referring to how you are positioned physically on your feet are not used in the plural. "All of us lost our balance doing that dance". referents in semiology refer to actual things in reality, not mental pictures.
    – Lambie
    Nov 12, 2021 at 22:11
  • @Lambie Meaningless? No, archaic, yes. It means "grasp mentally". I'll change that.
    – LPH
    Nov 12, 2021 at 22:30
  • @Lambie It is implied nowhere that mental pictures are at stakes. Anyway, to several actual things corresponds in the mind the mental representation of that plurality. You miss the point. I am talking about the actual things. The concept of several balances for only one human being does not exist, whereas the concept of several resolutions relative to a single person is a realistic concept.
    – LPH
    Nov 12, 2021 at 22:41
  • @HotLicks Yes, a group of persons with each several particular interests, and all of them losing all of their interests is a possible situation; then it would be normal to say "We all lost our interests.". However, in that case the word is not reckoned with as denoting a single referent for each person.
    – LPH
    Nov 12, 2021 at 22:56

This is an excellent question that raises an issue that seems backward. When deciding numerical agreement, you always match singular with singular, and plural with plural. Here, "us all" refers to a GROUP, so it SEEMS plural. But it is not. It is ONE group, not many. So the referent must be singular: "I lose my balance. The group loses its balance." If it were truly plural, it would be referring to separate items: The balances of bass, treble, and midrange required adjustment.

  • Welcome to ELU. Please get used to using **double asterisks for bold** instead of capitals. When you mention a word, set that in *italics* with a single asterisk.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 13, 2021 at 8:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.