17

Please have a look at the two sentences below:

  • The temperature will drop to zero degree.
  • The temperature will drop to zero degrees.

So which one is correct? In other words, how to use the plural form of degree?
And furthermore, for any other countable noun?

OK, guys. Let me change my problem. Now I'm very confused in the definition of plural form. When do we need to use plural form?
If it means "more than one", how do we ought to use 0, -1, 0.9, and so on?
If not, what is its real meaning?

  • A native speaker would be likely to say "Tomorrow, the temperature's dropping to zero" and omit "degrees". or "Tomorrow, it's dropping to ten degrees below zero". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 9 '17 at 13:00
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    If you've seen something like "Be careful in the zero degree weather" - you don't add s at the end of words when they are used as adjectives. If you said "The freezer is set at zero degrees" for example, you would then add s. – LawrenceC Jan 9 '17 at 13:38
18

When you use the word zero as a number, the word it quantifies should always, I repeat, always be plural!

Example #1:

Ice melts at zero degrees Celsius.

Example #2:

— How many friends do you have in this town?
— After that story went public, I have literally zero friends!

You may ask why is that true? Well, consider this. You can have three cars, you can have two cars and you can have just one car. But how many cars do you have when you don't have any? Notice, I said how many cars, not how many car. So, naturally, your response should be I have zero cars.

The determiner many always implies plurality unless you have only one of something. If it was indeed possible to say zero car, then your response would have been either I have a zero car or I have zero car. Well, the first one sounds more like you're talking abut a type of car, not how many cars you've got. And the second one sounds like a name or title (the name of a game or a movie title, perhaps). Do you see the confusion?

The same holds true when talking about temperatures. The word degree should always be plural unless it's exactly 1 degree Fahrenheit or Celsius. Even when you're dealing with a fraction of a degree, it's still plural.

Example:

The outdoor temperature is 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit.


PS: The question how many cars do you have? would be more likely answered like this:

— How many cars do you have?
— I don't have a car. / I've got none.

The only time you ever say I've got zero cars is when you want to emphasize the fact that you don't have any cars at all. So, it's just a more emphatic way to stress that.


Here's some more information on the subject you might consider reading: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/38293/why-is-zero-plural


In summary, 1 or -1 degree Celsius should grammatically always be singular, but in everyday speech a lot of people might say 1 or -1 degrees. Here's the rule: if exactly one of something—singular (regardless of whether the quantity is negative or positive). Everything else—plural (regardless of whether the quantity is negative or positive).

  • Well, but I think it is a bit strange. When I wanna say '0.2 degree', I want to know if I should use plural form here. – 谢卓然 Jan 9 '17 at 11:11
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    I think when talking about temperature in general, the word "degree" should always be plural unless it's exactly 1 degree Fahrenheit or Celsius. – Michael Rybkin Jan 9 '17 at 11:15
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    @谢卓然 -1 is a tricky one. This thread is old, but good: english.stackexchange.com/questions/9735/… – Damkerng T. Jan 9 '17 at 12:10
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    I agree with your conclusion, but not your logic. You can certainly ask "How many cars (plural) do you have if you started with three cars and then gave away two?" and answer with "I have one car". Additionally, the fact that you can say "I have one car" doesn't mean that "I have a(n) one car" would also be a valid phrase. – R.M. Jan 9 '17 at 13:15
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    "-1 degree Celsius" should grammatically be singular. But in everyday speech a lot of people might say -1 degrees. Here's the rule: if exactly one of something--singular. Everything else--plural. – Michael Rybkin Jan 9 '17 at 14:06
7

From Cookie Monster's answer:

Even when you're dealing with a fraction of a degree, it's still plural.

This is only the case when the number is phrased as a decimal value. For values between zero and one, when phrased using fraction words (three-fourths, four-fifths, etc.), the unit word should be singular and separated by "a" or "of a". For example:

It is 0.75 degrees ["(zero) point seven five degrees"] outside.

It is 3/4 of a degree ["three-fourths of a degree"] outside.

The fraction 1/2 is something of a special case, as both of the following are valid:

It is 1/2 of a degree ["one half of a degree"] outside.

It is 1/2 a degree ["half a degree"] outside.

To my American English ear, the latter phrasing sounds more natural.


For non-integer values greater than one, however, the unit word should be plural regardless of the phrasing:

It is 2.75 degrees ["two point seven five degrees"] outside.

It is 2 3/4 degrees ["two and three-fourths degrees"] outside.

  • "Two and three quarters" is normally written as 2¾. Interestingly, we pronounce all decimals as plural, even 1.0° ("one point nought degrees") and 1.1° (one point one degrees). Also, in English, 101 takes the plural form (some languages don't). – Toby Speight Jan 9 '17 at 18:09
  • @TobySpeight Here on ELL? Or generally? I was never taught a specific format as being proper. (Also, I don't have the Alt keystroke code memorized for that fraction... :-) – hBy2Py Jan 9 '17 at 18:12
  • Anywhere that you're not restricted to ASCII (IMHO of course). On my keyboard, ¾ is Compose, 3, 4; your system may vary... – Toby Speight Jan 9 '17 at 18:14
  • @TobySpeight Looks like I shouldn't have had that hyphen in there, though. – hBy2Py Jan 9 '17 at 18:14
3

Allow me to simply for you. If the number in question is not one or a expressed with one as a reference - half of a degree or 20 times a degree for example - then you use plural.

People make English too complicated.

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