Singular or plural?

Randy Alexander strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 30 01:32:51 UTC 2009

On Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 8:38 AM, Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at> wrote:
> Strictly in terms of raw googits, for what it's worth, "barracks (was
> or is)" gets 5 million; "barracks (were or are) gets 6.18 million.

More evidence that this is a noun with identical singular and plural forms.

> My
> guess is that there isn't much difference in the frequency of singular
> vs. plural uses. Â Without a determiner, as in "New barracks *was/were
> built," plural is necessary, but with a definite article, "the Marine
> barracks was bombed," singular works. Â Barracks belongs to one of
> several classes of noun that grammars list as sometimes or always

Sometimes or always?

> taking singular verbs and allowing the indefinite article, but these
> lists rarely include any explanation beyond possible membership, e.g.,

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has a pretty exhaustive
treatment of this, p333-54.

> diseases (measles, mumps, rickets), games (checkers, darts, quoits
> (what's a quoit)),

A quoit is a ring (about 10cm or so in diameter) often used for a
ring-toss-like game.

> miscellaneous other terms (barracks, scissors,
> shears).

Scissors/shears are different than barracks, because while you can say
 "two barracks", you cannot say "two scissors/shears", but rather "two
pairs of scissors/shears".  Scissors/shears are therefore plural
uncount nouns, along with clothes, pants, munitions, etc.  They are
uncount because they cannot be used with numbers.

> A few years ago a graduate student of mine did his
> dissertation on the treatment of words like these by different social
> groups and found considerable variation both within and across groups.
> Herb
> On Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 3:14 PM, Bill Palmer <w_a_palmer at> wrote:
> > In a story reporting the location of prior chief executives at times of =
> > national crisis (occasioned by the recent attempt to bomb a NWA flight), =
> > CBS reported, "President Reagan was on vacation when the Marine barracks =
> > in Beirut were bombed in 1983". Â I would have used "was". Â But I don't =
> > really know which is appropriate.

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China
Manchu studies:
Chinese characters:

The American Dialect Society -

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