13

From the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

Small shops have been a casualty of the recession.

"Shops" is plural here while "casualty" is singular. Any reason for that?

Can I have the sentence stick to one form?

Small shop has been a casualty of the recession.

Small shops have been casualties of the recession.

Thanks in advance.

  • 9
    It's a good question but you definitely can't say "Small shop has been a casualty" because shop is countable, and therefore it would have to be "a small shop" or "the small shop". – stangdon May 7 '18 at 16:04
30

The reason for the use of the singular casualty is to imply that small shops (collectively) are one casualty among many other groups of entities. Another example:

Private equity funds are a significant factor in the rapid increase in housing prices, in certain markets.

It may be grammatical to say "the funds are significant factors", but this changes the meaning to suggest that the funds each have a separate effect, rather than that, together, they have a collective effect among other (unmentioned) groups that also have an effect (e.g. foreign investors, families with rising incomes, etc.)

Of course if we were talking about one specific fund, then we would use the singular:

The Donald Trump 'Best Fund in the World' Fund is a significant factor in ...

9

The first sentence is grammatically correct, as small shops is talking about the singular collection of small shops, not any small shop in particular.

In other words, Small shops is one noun referencing one collection, so it is singular.

As Andrew pointed out, there is an important distinction between the two sentences that I forget to address. When someone says Small shops have been casualties of the recession, you are saying that many individual shops have caused separate casualties rather than small shops as a whole. Both are valid, but the Small shops have been a casualty of the recession makes more sense

  • 5
    Whilst it's true that the first sentence is grammatically correct, it's also true that plural casualties is equally correct. And I don't think there's any significant difference in meaning for OP's exact examples. – FumbleFingers May 7 '18 at 15:18
  • While your answer might be correct, it misses the point of using the singular here. The nuance is that small shops are one casualty among many. – Andrew May 7 '18 at 16:37
  • 2
    @Andrew I don’t think you see my point; as a single collection, it can only have one casualty. Explaining it as a collection makes it a united object. So while I might have not been direct, most could probably infer that since there is one object, that object can only have one casualty among many. – Sean May 7 '18 at 17:02
  • 1
    @Sean I'm talking about the difference between "small shops are casualties of ..." and "small shops are a casualty of ..." It's not random or capricious to choose the second over the first -- there's an important difference in nuance that emphasizes different collective groups are similar casualties. If you include this in your answer, I will happily change my vote. – Andrew May 7 '18 at 17:33
  • Another issue with this answer is that you explain saying "many individual shops have caused separate casualties" -- in the example sentence, the shops were the casualties, they didn't cause them. A machine gun causes casualties in war, enemy combatants are the casualties; to say that the enemy combatants caused casualties when they're the ones dead is wholly incorrect. – Doktor J May 7 '18 at 20:43
2

When you refer to a group of things and the nature of the group is more important than the identity of the individual members, you will likely use a collective noun.

Some collective nouns are distinct from their individual forms, e.g., "The herd fled when a lioness approached." Herd is the collective noun, and the individual members might be gazelles or antelopes.

Other nouns, such as "shops" do not have different words for plural vs collective usage. In this case, the collective usage is determined by the grammar of the sentence.

The use of "small shops" as a collective noun indicates (1) that all small shops were hurt by the recession in some manner, and (2) that being a member of the "small shops" class is sufficient to receive that harm.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.