plurality explored

I have noticed a distinct oddity having to do with plurality in the English language.

If you say you have 2 miles to go, I would propose we all agree that miles should be plural. If you have 1 mile to go, that’s singular, which again, I think we’d all agree on. The confusion begins when you talk about values that are less than one, like .2 or .3. I would say there are .3 miles to go, but I would also say there are .5 miles (plural) and a half mile (singular). Why is a half singular, while .5 is plural when it’s the same quantity? And why is it .1 miles instead of .1 mile? Or is it supposed to be .1 mile?

Jeff Boulter says the rule is that, “words are plural for every value except 1.”

That kind of makes sense, because there is one half mile, but it’s also kind of confusing because the value is in fact less than one, not one itself.

Just a random observation.


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  1. arabic is singular until 10 but 11 and up use the plural so .4 mile would be .4 mile and 10.1 would be 10.1 miles for example.

    Comment by whaleman on June 19, 2005 @ 7:06 pm
  2. Interesting. That would be kind of hard to get used to. I’m glad French and Spanish don’t follow that rule.

    I wonder why 1-10 is considered singular in Arabic.

    Comment by dan on June 19, 2005 @ 8:54 pm
  3. Half of a mile is using one singular mile as a unit of measurement. .5 miles is using a tenth as a unit of measurement. When stating .5 miles you are in fact saying there are 5 of those tenth units, therefore a plural in utilized here.

    Comment by Gloria Chen on June 29, 2005 @ 1:32 am

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