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When I say I was washing my hair, is hair singular or plural?

What is the singular for hair?

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    Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish.
    – John Smith
    Aug 30, 2020 at 9:02
  • 1
    Closed. But it's 12 years too late, questions that have drawn 273K of views should be exempt from closure. Standards were completely different back in the day, rules were far less strident, ELL didn't exist. New users were asking questions that every non-native speaker was asking…tsk.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 4, 2023 at 22:07
  • << I was washing my hair / We were washing our hair >>: Singular [fixed] in form; non-count usage (does not accept numerals); refers to a notional mop. // << I found a hair in my soup / I found three hairs in my soup >>: Singular or plural, as required, in form; count usage; refers to countable (in principle) elements. Apr 6, 2023 at 12:00

7 Answers 7

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This seems to be one of those plural issues where a different plural is used when referring to the large uncountable group. "I found 3 gray hairs this morning" is proper but so is "I washed my hair this morning".

In the second case, your entire head covered with individual hairs is treated as a single object or group which is why it is referred to in a singular form.

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9

The word hair in some cases is a collective noun, and in other cases is not a collective noun.

As reported from the NOAD, the meaning of the word is:

  1. Any of the fine threadlike strands growing from the skin of humans, mammals, and some other animals.
  2. Such strands collectively, especially those growing on a person's head.

In most of the phrases, the word used is hair; in some cases is hairs (to split hairs).

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    A collective noun is usually defined as a noun partaking in the string 'a/n X of Ys', such as 'a group of penguins', 'a pride of lions'. 'Hair' has count ('we found 7 hairs // a/1 hair on the rug' and non-count ('she washed her hair') usages. _The non-count usage is always singular in form ('she washed her hair' / 'they washed their hair'). Apr 3, 2023 at 15:37
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The noun hair is a singular, plural, or collective noun. It all depends on the context of the sentence.

In your sentence,

I was washing my hair.

the noun hair is the collective. It is also the case in:

I have my hair cut.
She brushed her long red hair.

It is singular in following sentences.

I found a hair in my soup.
I just pulled out one of your white hair

It is plural in the following sentences.

There are dog hairs on the sofa.
I lost a lot of hairs after the operation.

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    Some of these sound odd. "I just pull out one of your white hair" -> "I just pulled out one of your white hairs". "There are dog hairs on the sofa" -> "There is dog hair on the sofa". "I drop a lot of hairs after operation" -> "I lost a lot of hair after the operation".
    – Tester101
    Jan 25, 2011 at 17:57
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    "I just pull out one of your white hair" still needs to be changed.
    – amcnabb
    Mar 22, 2012 at 21:49
  • The the word "hair" in the sentence "I just pulled out one of your white hair" needs to be plural, because the phrase "one of" implies that its object is a collection of a discrete things. If you want to use singular "hair", the sentence should be changed to either "I pulled out a strand of your white hair" or "I pulled out some strands of your white hair".
    – supercat
    Oct 10, 2014 at 16:50
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Neither, it is collective, meaning that 'hair' in this context refers to all your hair.

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    well not all the hair. Just the stuff on top of the head.
    – Oldcat
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:40
  • It means most of your hair. "I got my hair cut but the hairdresser missed a bit" is fine because "my hair" refers to the general mass and doesn't require each individual hair to have been cut.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 3, 2023 at 16:10
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When I say I was washing my hair, is hair singular or plural?

Hair is singular as, in this context, it is an uncountable noun.

What is the singular for hair?

This question cannot be asked: "hair" is singular in the same sense that "guidance" "weather" and "jewellery" are singular: they take singular verb and pronoun.

"Hair" is what you have on your head. You have thousands of hairs on your head. From time to time, a hair will fall out.

Hair is a material noun: material nouns are comprised of the substance of their noun:

Steel, chocolate, potato, coffee, wine are all material nouns.

This knife is made of steel. -> uncountable; We sell steels for specialist applications. -> countable

This is a bar of chocolate -> uncountable; or would you prefer some chocolates? -> countable

Do you want a glass of wine? -> uncountable; I have several wines to choose from. -> countable.

The material noun is uncountable as an amorphous mass and/or the concept of class of homogeneous ideas:

Any more potato? -> here the reference must be to mashed/puréed potato.

Any more potatoes? -> here the reference must be to whole potatoes or pieces of potato.

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I think both hair and hairs are right because the sentence "I pulled out some hairs" would be right and "She has a head full of hair" works too, so I think both hair and hairs work that it just depends on the context clues of the sentence.

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  • You are right, but this answer doesn't add anything to what is already here. Mar 23, 2012 at 9:58
  • I think it is worth noting that the sentence "washing my hairs" could be correct, but would imply that each hair was being washed individually. Such level of detail would be unusual, but in cases where someone's hairs were being washed individually (perhaps the person was nearly bald, and thus only had a few dozen hairs scattered about the head), the plural form of "hairs" would be appropriate.
    – supercat
    Oct 10, 2014 at 16:55
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I think 'Hair' is Material noun. Brick, wood, skin, muscle, oil, glass, paper, paint, gold etc. are all Material Nouns. So, if wish to refer to a particular number of Hair, we should say 3 or 4 strands of hair.

Consider the sentences :

"The other was Della's hair". (not 'hairs')

My hair is turning grey. (not 'hairs are')

My hair is black and his hair is brown. (not 'hairs are')

He caught my wisp or lock of hair. (not 'hairs')

He plucked 10 strands of grey hair from my head. ('10 strands', but not 'hairs')

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  • "three or four hairs" is perfectly standard; you don't need to insert "strands" or another measure word.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 3, 2023 at 16:11
  • You need to give a few examples of hairs (plural) and explain why they are plural. You need also to explain why a material noun can be both countable and uncountable and in what context.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 3, 2023 at 16:50

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