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I am trying to explain to an ESL student how to understand when to treat "some" as plural and when to treat it as singular. One clear rule is when "some" is the subject followed by a prepositional phrase, as in "Some of the students are here." Since "students" is plural, we know the indefinite "some" is also plural.

However, I am unsure how to explain the rule behind a phrase like the following:

Because of some problems, we had to reschedule the meeting.

Why must we say "some problems" (plural) or "a problem" (singular) here?

I realize there is another use case, where "some" means something more like "big" or "great," in which we also use it with a singular noun:

That is some problem you have there.

What I am looking for is a clear rule(s) that will help my student distinguish between these three different contexts. Because she is ESL, explanations that refer to whether the noun is already singular or plural do not help her; she is trying to learn when the noun should be plural or singular.

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    Some problems means more than one. Some problem [or other] would mean 'a problem that I don't know the details of, and don't care'. Commented Feb 14 at 17:05
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  • May I suggest modifying the title? As soon as I read it and saw the link to "Does ‘some‘ require a plural or singular verb” below your question I didn't hesitate to close your post. When I realized the question was quite different it was too late to retract the close vote. I havenow cast my vote to reopen the Q. You only need another two votes
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 14 at 20:16
  • Note that in your example "That is some problem you have there", "some" is a modifier, not a determiner. But in "Some people don't like it", it is a determiner.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 15 at 10:00

4 Answers 4

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Cambridge explains it well, mentioning the different usages and meanings of the weak and strong forms of some:

Some as a determiner has two forms: a weak form and a strong form. The forms have different meanings.
We use the weak form of some only with uncountable nouns and plural nouns.

Warning: We don’t use weak form some with singular countable nouns:

If you’re looking for a book to read, I can recommend ‘Animal Farm’.
Not: If you’re looking for some book to read …

As for the strong form, Cambridge notes:

The strong form of some is stressed. This form contrasts with others or all or enough.
We can use this strong form to refer to someone or something particular but unknown, especially with singular countable nouns:

There must be some way of opening this printer!

As for the third usage you mention, ("That is some problem you have there."), it is informal:

Some in informal contexts is used to show approval/admiration or disapproval/disappointment depending on the contexts. In this case, 'some' must be pronounced with stress.

That was some dress. (such a dress)
Some mother you are! Your baby is crying out loud and you don't do anything. (Here, 'some' shows 'disappointment.')
(Langeek)

And "pronounced with stress" refers to the strong form of some.

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    This is exactly what I need to explain the rule. Thank you. Commented Feb 14 at 18:31
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To add to Kate Bunting's comment, some has been used with singular nouns to refer generally to the noun (e.g. "some church", "some castle") as early as the 12th century. The practical meaning is that the speaker doesn't know which church, or which castle:

After wandering in the woods for days, he saw some castle in the distance.

or that specific identity is not relevant:

We'll stop off at some fast food place on the way.

or that the speaker doesn't know the identity and is somewhat exasperated because they don't:

There must be some trick to opening this box.

When the word some is given exaggerated emphasis, it is an intensifier, like "quite a":

That is some bump you've got on your forehead. How did that happen?

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Strong form some /sʌm/ The strong form of some is stressed. This form contrasts with others or all or enough: Why do some people live longer than other people? (some, not others)

[In answer to the question posed]

[...] Some followed by a singular count noun:

We can use this strong form to refer to someone or something particular but unknown, especially with singular countable nouns:

There must be some way of opening this printer!

Some idiot driver crashed into the back of me.

The Cambridge entry explains all the forms of some, both weak and strong.

Some as a determiner We use some before nouns to refer to indefinite quantities. Although the quantity is not important or not defined, using some implies a limited quantity:

Can you get me some milk? (The quantity isn’t specified. Some suggests a normal amount, not an unlimited amount. Compare: Can you get me five litres of milk?) [...]

Some as a determiner has two forms: a weak form and a strong form. The forms have different meanings.

Weak form some /səm/ We use the weak form of some in affirmative sentences and in questions (usually expecting the answer ‘yes’), when the quantity is indefinite or not important (we use any in questions and negative sentences):

I’ve got some /səm/ water. [...]

We use the weak form of some only with uncountable nouns and plural nouns:

I’m looking for some advice. (+ uncountable noun) [...]

This was all copy pasted by me. And does not show the use of some with numbers. (This might be moved to ELL)

grammar

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  • This is exactly what I needed. Thank you. Commented Feb 14 at 18:31
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One word can have multiple meanings, of course. The meaning determines the number.

"That is some problem": "some problem" is "a problem of weight or significance" -- singular.

"These are some problems": "some problems" means "more than one problem" -- plural.

"Some eighty people showed up": "some" means "approximately"; "people" is plural, so plural.

"Some friend you are!": "some friend" means "a poor excuse for one" -- singular.

So I would go with what the meaning is.

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