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I'm looking for a word or term that makes it ambiguous whether it's singular or plural person. Preferably I'd like it imply singular with it leaving room for plural, but I can settle for just being equally ambiguous whether it's one or more. I'm trying to write a sentence that tricks people in into thinking it refers to one person but in actuality it refers to multiple people. Single word or short phrases are allowed.

Example: The ____ engulfed in black petals will resurrect the darkness.

Example2: May the ____ with golden eyes bring upon the new dawn.

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    well, we do have the use of "they" as a singular third-person pronoun. see this page: apastyle.apa.org/blog/singular-they
    – bob.mazzo
    Sep 13, 2022 at 19:52
  • This appears to be a single word request (though it isn't tagged as such), for which you should provide a sample sentence in which the word could be used. Sep 13, 2022 at 20:15
  • Two things. They implies plural. When you hear they. You think of plural. I'm trying to make people think singular. I want it make seem like I'm implying singular when in actually I'm referring to multiple. The next thing is a question. This single word request only used for singular words because what I'm looking for doesn't have to be a single word. It can also just be a short phrase. Both are fine. Sep 14, 2022 at 6:09
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    If you Google you'll find lists of words that are unchanged in singular and plural.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 14, 2022 at 6:32
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    If you have "The ____ who eats corrupt flower will resurrect the darkness" then the verb "eats" indicates it is singular, so it doesn't matter what noun you use. Your second example would be grammatical with single or plural, so it's OK for your purpose.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 14, 2022 at 12:41

3 Answers 3

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One approach is to use a class of noun that has an adjectival derivation (which in English does not reveal its number as it would in many other languages). Examples of this type that are in the same style as the poster’s example sentences are:

the Anointed
the Appointed
the Betrothed
the Blessed
the Disinherited
the Enlightened
the Outcast
the Prodigal
the Redeemed
the Undefiled
the Unrepentant
the Unforgiven
the Wanton

If none of these fit, no doubt the poster can find something more to his taste — try the Bible. (Although, given his handle, perhaps “demonic” will appeal.)

Footnote
Any of these would make a good title for a book or film. Unfortunately they’ve all been taken.

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  • I like this clever approach. It works for the OP's literary sentences.
    – ermanen
    Sep 15, 2022 at 9:46
  • Books and films often take names previously used.
    – GEdgar
    Sep 15, 2022 at 19:43
  • @GEdgar — Of course. The Bible and Shakespeare are favourites. I was just acknowledging sources. And although there is generally no ambiguity of number, the libretto of Handel’s Messiah is rich in this type of thing.
    – David
    Sep 15, 2022 at 21:35
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Preamble

Apologies for posting two answers to the same question, but this one is fundamentally different in type from my other one. I find it less interesting or apposite, but add it because it represents a type of approach rather than a single instance.

One fish, two fish

With apologies to Dr Seuss and the nationals mentioned below, one approach is to use certain demonyms. According to the Wikipedia entry: “A country demonym denotes the people or the inhabitants of or from there…”

In most cases the singular and plural of demonyms are distinct — American/Americans, Englishman/Englishmen etc. However there are are two classes of exception that come to mind. Both involve an ‘s’ sound at the end that thwarts the simple pluralization, and in all these cases the addition of the suffixes -man/-men (-woman/women) is not common English usage.

  • Demonyms ending in -ese e.g. Portuguese, Burmese, Maltese, Vietnamese…
  • Swiss (a single example)

This is certainly limited in range, but might add a little exoticism to story set in Birmingham, for example.

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You can consider the word folk. It looks singular but it means plural as it is a collective noun for people. It never refers to a single person. Although it is mostly used in plural form as folks today for the sense "men, people indefinitely", it is possible to find usages as "the folk" for the same sense. OED has this note for this sense:

From 14th cent. onward the plural has been used in the same sense, and since 17th cent. is the ordinary form, the singular being archaic or dialect. The word is now chiefly colloquial, being superseded in more formal use by people.

Your examples have that archaic or literary feel in it so the folk might work.

Here is another related question about folk vs. folks with useful answers: Should it be folk or folks?

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  • I've posted this answer because the OP agreed in the question comments that folk is an apt word when I first posted as a comment and asked if it works for the intended approach. David's answer is even better though.
    – ermanen
    Sep 15, 2022 at 9:42
  • "Folk" in the singular is perfectly common and normal (at least here in the UK); "folks" comes across as a little colloquial/affected. But I'm not sure it works here, because even in the singular is meaning is always plural ("people").
    – psmears
    Sep 15, 2022 at 9:52
  • @psmears I believe it depends on the usage and context as folk has multiple senses/usages.
    – ermanen
    Sep 15, 2022 at 9:59
  • @ermanem: It does have other meanings, but the meaning that people will understand if you use it in this context is the plural one, because that's by far the most common - for example, it's the only meaning listed in this dictionary for folk as a noun.
    – psmears
    Sep 15, 2022 at 10:03
  • @psmears Yes the ambiguity is not about that it doesn't have a singular meaning; it is about folk being a collective noun and has some other plural senses; however it can "look" singular. I confirmed with the OP before posting as an answer. It was a comment before as I've mentioned.
    – ermanen
    Sep 15, 2022 at 10:05

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