Whenever someone asks me if I got a haircut, I always reply "actually, I got all of them cut;" or if someone mentions going for a haircut, I ask "oh really, which one?" It's a dumb old dad joke I know.

But it got me thinking ... I realize that there aren't many cases where a noun form can mean either a singular instance, or all of it, but 'hair' happens to be just such a case.

  • Singular: I plucked a (single) hair.
  • Plural: I lost two hairs.
  • ???: I got (all) my hair cut.

I was wondering whether there is a specific grammatical term for this "third" amount-specifier?

  • The word all in this case is an adjective, not a noun. It means the whole amount. On its own, it can be used whether there is a single instance of something in a set or more than one. Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 20:42

1 Answer 1


This has actually already been discussed on EL&U!

To summerise:

This seems to be one of those plural issues where a different plural is used when referring to the large uncountable group. "I found 3 gray hairs this morning" is proper but so is "I washed my hair this morning".

In the second case, your entire head covered with individuals hairs is treated as a single object or group which is why it is referred to in a singular form.

The word hair in some cases is a collective noun, and in other cases is not a collective noun.

As reported from the NOAD, the meaning of the word is:

Any of the fine threadlike strands growing from the skin of humans, mammals, and some other animals. Such strands collectively, especially those growing on a person's head. In most of the phrases, the word used is hair; in some cases is hairs (to split hairs).

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