Take the example

Monkeys like bananas.

Here, is 'bananas' referred to banana in general or more than one banana? I guess it represents only banana in general irrespective of one or more than one banana.

But what about this sentence?

Studying at 'good institutes' can really make a difference.

Here, is 'institutes' referred to general institute regardless of one or more institutes OR is 'institutes' referred to more than one institutes ?


2 Answers 2


Both of your examples are referring to generalities. If these examples were trying to convey plurality, they would say something like:

Monkeys like large bundles of bananas.


Studying at multiple good institutes can really make a difference.


I'd say that in OP's example, plural bananas refers to "bananas in general" and "more than one banana" simultaneously, just as Monkeys like a banana simultaneously refers to "bananas in general" and "one single banana".

The third possibility is Monkeys like banana (singular, no article), which doesn't really refer to "bananas in general" - it uses banana as a "mass noun", meaning that monkeys like the substance (or flavour) known as banana.

In principle (but probably not in practice! :) a particular monkey might like a banana (or equivalently he might like bananas) provided you offer him the whole fruit. But he might not like banana if you gave him some banana pulp mashed up in a bowl, or offered him a banana milkshake.

There's no equivalent to that third possibility with OP's good institutes example. In almost all contexts, there's no difference in meaning between...

1: Studying at good institutes can really make a difference.
2: Studying at a good institute can really make a difference.

...but idiomatically #2 is much more common.

The idea of an individual student studying at multiple institutes (concurrently or consecutively) is culturally unfamiliar to me as a Brit, which is why I find it hard to imagine any difference in meaning between #1 and #2 above. But noting a solitary unexplained downvote, I'll try to explain in more detail how "plurality" works in such contexts by switching to a slightly different example...

3: Blood serum levels of DDT in these children were significantly correlated with duration of nursing, having older mothers, and residing in a rural area.

...which is perfectly valid, both logically and grammatically. But it would mean exactly the same with the singular form having an older mother and/or plural residing in rural areas.

I'm quite certain "these children" referred to in the above study came from more than one different "rural area", though obviously each individual child has only one mother, and comes from one area. But neither the above author nor myself has any problem with including both singular and plural references in the same sentence.

From this perspective, it should be clear that OP's "institute" example can quite naturally be understood as referring simultaneously to all/any good institutes and a single institute as normally attended by any given student.

As has been pointed out by @Daniel Warke, if the point OP really wanted to make was that each individual student must study at multiple institutes in order to gain the advantage, this would need to be explicitly stated. If not, that somewhat "perverse" interpretation would probably be missed.

  • In your sentence 1 where 'good institutes' has been used, here as per your explanation it refers to institute in general and also at the same time more than one institute . Right ?
    – Brock
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 4:03
  • The truth is native Anglophones don't normally refer to studying at good institutes. There are just five hits for that in Google, and six for studying at a good institute (and in each case, two of the hits are for this very ELL question). You wrote it, so strictly speaking it means whatever you wanted it to mean, but because I don't naturally think in terms of one student attending multiple "institutes", I tend to interpret that example as being primarily singular in intent. I'll try to go into more detail with a more common (and more clear-cut) example... Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 12:57
  • Let's say I'm making a general statement about an app called 'Google Map' and the statement reads like this - 'The Google Map loads 'maps' instantly.' Here does 'maps' mean more than one map or just one single map or both ?
    – Brock
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 14:01
  • As I thought my recent edit should make clear, the answer to that question depends on how Google Map works internally, not how English works. Obviously it would be a pretty useless app if it always loaded the same (singular) map, though for all I know it might always load several different maps at the same time (each containing different information about the area you want to look at). But as per the final paragraph of my revised answer, if you wanted to unambiguously convey that somewhat perverse/unlikely sense, you'd need to say it loads multiple maps instantly. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 15:00

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