If I say the below, what do you have in mind?

  1. Children have bags.

  2. Children have a bag.

A. Each child has a bag.
B. Each child has some bags.
C. Children share one bag.

  • What is your context? Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 11:32

1 Answer 1


Additional information is needed in each case to decide the meanings.

Birds have wings.

^ This means that all (or most) birds have wings as a general rule. From our experience, we know that this means each bird has its own wing(s).

Dogs have a tail.

^ This statement is ambiguous. It could mean that all (or most) dogs have a single tail, but we know from our experience that it means that each dog has its own tail.

Babies have a mother.

^ This statement is also ambiguous. It could mean that there is a single mother shared by all the babies, or it could mean that there are multiple mothers for the babies, possibly even a unique mother for each individual baby.

All quiz questions have an answer.

^ Again, taken in isolation this statement is ambiguous. It could mean that all quiz questions have a single answer (the same answer for all the questions). However, we know from experience that it is more likely that the intended meaning is that if there are multiple quiz questions, then there are also multiple answers, a unique answer for each question.

Because sentences with this construction:

plural noun-subject + have + (either singular or plural noun-object)

could be misinterpreted very easily, it is usually best for the speaker or writer to instead use a statement that has additional clues, just like the sentences labeled A, B, or C in the original question, rather than a more ambiguous statement like the sentences labeled 1 or 2.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .