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The question rooted from the comment of J.R. on this question here. He edited my answer making 'a doubt' 'doubts'. In the comment it's mentioned that if I'm suspicious about something, generally it's expressed in a plural way. But in my answer, I had only one doubt that she meets someone which is out of my knowledge.

Now the question:

If I'm suspicious about only one thing, do I have a doubt? or doubts?

Note: In India, as I said there in my comment, it's quite clear. I have a doubt if I have a doubt and I have doubts if I have them many. In fact, I have many doubts is also common. In my dialect, I'm clear and pretty sure about it but posting this question to learn further.

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Maulik V, Damkerng T., oerkelens, Tyler James Young Jun 17 at 14:22

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You've tagged this question with indian-english and the question references the way you say it in India. Have you done so because you want to know about doubts in other English dialects, or are you asking whether you've made the correct formation in Indian English specifically? –  Esoteric Screen Name Jun 17 at 9:11
    
@EsotericScreenName Here, the answerers have created a tag stating that anything that's common in Indian dialect better have this tag (There had been a very big issue on this). And I put this question because my answer was edited mentioning doubts is common among natives whereas here, in India, it's certainly a doubt (in that context)> –  Maulik V Jun 17 at 9:22
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The number of things which you have doubts about is irrelevant –  JamesRyan Jun 17 at 11:24
    
@JamesRyan what about I have two doubts. First, would this formula work? Second, would it fit in our budget? OVER I'm fully convinced with this formula. Just ONE doubt - does it fit in our budget? –  Maulik V Jun 17 at 11:33
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While the number of doubts is what we are talking about, you are not counting them. 'I have doubts' meaning 'I have 1 or more doubts', the exact number is left unspecified. This reflects what is significant which is not how many doubts there are but whether there is any doubt at all or not. –  JamesRyan Jun 17 at 11:39

2 Answers 2

As I said in my comment on your question, the tricky part is quantifying how many doubts you are having. Sure, in your title here, you've said ONLY ONE (in capital letters). However, your sample sentence (the one I edited) initially read as follows:

I have a doubt, a clear doubt. I'll pay you for this. Just snoop around my wife and find out whom does she meet every day.

To me, that sounded like a husband who suspected his wife might be having an affair. If so, it's rather hard for a man to compartmentalize his thoughts so much that he can narrow down his doubt to one and only one doubt, particularly when that one doubt is left unnamed. For example: Is she really seeing someone? If so, who? What is the nature of that relationship? Is she unhappy in our marriage? How long as this been going on? Or am I just being paranoid?

It's not so much that you can't say "I have a doubt about this," it's more that you can say "I'm having doubts about this." Such doubts are similar to misgivings, which, according to NOAD, is usually put in the plural:

misgiving noun (usu. misgivings) a feeling of doubt or apprehension about the outcome or consequences of something : we have misgivings about the way the campaign is being run | I felt a sense of misgiving at the prospect of retirement.

Even if the topic wasn't something nearly as tumultuous as a suspected affair, I'm more likely to use the plural form. Assume we are planning the company picnic; If I think the weather might get so bad that it ruins the picnic, I might mention:

I'm having doubts about the whether tomorrow.

I think it's easier to quantify one general doubt into several "sub-doubts" than to lump several little doubts into one and ONLY ONE countable doubt. For example, about the weather: Will it rain? If so, how hard will it rain? How long will it rain? What time will the rain start?

In short, I think your sample sentence flowed more naturally with the plural. The Ngrams would support my assertion as to "normal usage":

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Doubts seem to be like cockroaches. Once you are aware of the first one, chances are there is more than one.

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+1 this gives better insight. Thanks. –  Maulik V Jun 17 at 9:37
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"I have a doubt, a clear doubt." This makes absolutely NO sense in American or British English. You can have a worry, a question, a misgiving, a suspicion; but you don't have a "doubt", at least not in the sense you're using it. –  Phil Perry Jun 17 at 13:10

If you want to convey you only have one singular doubt, you should word it as:

I highly doubt [whatever it is you doubt].

Starting with "I doubt" instead of "I have a doubt" sounds more natural. The same applies for past tense, worded as "I doubted".

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