1. However, there are concerns that they[certain drugs] could pose a serious health risk to humans.
  2. However, there is concern that they[certain drugs] could pose a serious health risk to humans.
  3. However, there is a concern that they[certain drugs] could pose a serious health risk to humans.

Could you enlighten me as to the choice of plural or singular form in this case that have troubled me as always?

2 Answers 2


1) Imagine a child in school. The child bothers his classmates by talking during class and getting those classmates in trouble. One behavior is identified as creating the problem.

The teacher writes the parents of the child: I have a concern about your son: He constantly talks out of turn in class. Please bear in mind, though, that generally, the singular is not as used as the noun concern on its own. Both could be used here.

2) Imagine a child in school. The child talks in class when he shouldn't, throws paper airplanes and runs down corridors shouting.

Here, the school administrator might write: I have concerns about your son. He does A, B and C, which is disruptive to other students. (they are enumerated).

3) So, concern can be used as a general idea: There is concern about your child's behavior. [this is a general thing]. But, as you see in 1) and 2) they can also be specific.

So, let's look at your idea in the context of drugs (medications).

  • There is concern in the medical community about these drugs. Doctors fear that these drugs could [etc.]. concern as an uncountable noun is used here as a general principle in the medical community. When an uncountable noun is used as a notion or idea, there is no s. Love is a positive thing.** Concern for others is a social good."

  • There is a concern in the medical community that these drugs could induce a negative long-term effect regarding X. There is one specific concern; concern is used as a countable noun.

  • There are concerns in the medical community that these drugs will A, B and C. there are three specific concerns: A, B and C.

There are many nouns in English that can be used either uncountably or countably.

Others include: fear, delight, love, hate, coffee, tea, determination, etc.

So, in summary, ask yourself: - Am I expressing a general notion? Then, don't use the determiner a or s for concern. - Am I expressing one specific notion? Use a concern. - Am I expressing more than one problem? Use concerns

Tea is a wonderful drink. A tea in the morning will wake you up. But yesterday I drank too many teas [read: cups of tea] and therefore did not sleep very well last night.


They're all "valid", and mean exactly the same thing. In practice, no-one would distinguish between singular implying one [type of] "distrust" and plural implying that there are many different types of or grounds for that distrust.

But in context, it's worth noting that although it's idiomatically acceptable to use the singular form with [a] concern in this context, we can't usually do that with many "synonymous" terms...

I have misgivings / qualms / scruples regarding this plan

Since we're looking at it, I think it's worth noting that the construction only really gained traction fairly recently (something I wasn't aware of myself until I just checked written usage over time with NGrams). It's pretty obvious from the chart below which form is most likely, but I don't think the choice in any given context has any implications for validity, contextual suitability, or meaning.

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  • Certain nouns can be used as countable or uncountable. I do not think you address the issue; a love/loves versus love. it's always the same thing about this grammatical point. So, this is not about synonyms for concern but how concern functions in a class of dual usage nouns.
    – Lambie
    Nov 23, 2018 at 15:07
  • @Lambie: What's Love Got To Do With It? We'd always say The English have a love of books, not have loves, even though we're talking about many different people's (again, invarably plural) feelings. I think you're trying to inappropriately apply logic to an "idiomatic usage" context. I also think it might be relevant to note that it's nearly always non-native speakers who say I have a doubt about this, where the natives would normally say they have doubts. Nov 23, 2018 at 15:32
  • 1
    He had a great love in his life; He had two great loves in his life. He had no love in his life after his wife left him. Same thing: s/a versus no determiner/plural for some nouns that are dual usage. The word concern like the word love can be used countably and uncountably.
    – Lambie
    Nov 23, 2018 at 15:42

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