"two hundred troops"

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jan 31 19:41:14 UTC 2007

On Jan 31, 2007, at 8:21 AM, Edith Moravcsik wrote:

> Talking about number: it is really interesting how the word  
> "troops" is used these days.
> "Troop" originally was a collective noun referring to a group of  
> people. But more recently it has also been  used in reference to  
> individuals. Thus "a hundred troops" primarily refers to a hundred  
> soldiers and not to a hundred groups of them.
> What is particularly interesting is that, when it is used for a  
> plurality of invididuals, it sounds better (to me) if the numeral  
> is large: "a hundred troops" is better than "five troops" or "two  
> troops". And using the singular "troop" in reference to a single  
> person is even stranger (?"Over there I saw a troop") although  
> Mickey Noonan reports to have found occurrences of it on the web,  
> some from The New York Times...

many many people have noticed the size effect -- that "troops" is  
better when used with large numbers, especially round numbers (and  
quantity determiners).  (there is a similar effect for many people  
with certain ethnonyms, like "Chinese": cf.  "thousands of Chinese",  
"268 Chinese", "four Chinese" [credit to Liz Norcliffe and Lauren  

i blogged about "troops" (and  other things) back in December:

   AZ, 12/8/06: Plural, mass, collective:

and then more recently with a quote from the Onion:

   AZ, 1/30/07: Support our troop:


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