There are maybe five authors whose name will sell me a hardback and about fifty whose name will attract my attention to a paperback.

Should 'name' be 'names'? as authors are plural. But I've also learnt that for possessing things, either singular or plural nouns can be used. Here, in this case, every author only has one name, so maybe using 'name' is also correct?

1 Answer 1


The author names mentioned are regarded individually relating to their books. Let's say those five authors (A to E) have each released one book, so five total (Ax to Ex). The person picks up book Bx, and reads the name of author B on the cover, and is then prompted to buy it. For book Cx, it would be a different author, namely C.

Please let me know if this helps, or if you need clarification.


Racked my brain a little following the comment. I'd refer you to the distributive singular as discussed by Quirk et al. in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (10.47 Distributive number):

While the distributive plural is the norm, the distributive singular may also be used to focus on individual instances. We therefore often have a number choice:

  • The students raised their hand(s).
  • Some children have understanding fathers / an understanding father.
  • We all have good appetites / a good appetite.
  • Pronouns agree with their antecedent(s).
  • Their noses need / nose needs to be wiped.
  • The exercise was not good for their back(s).

For some freely accessible context, see this MLA article on distributive plural vs. singular.

  • so whether using singular or plural depends on the context? Can you help me to check Sentence 2 in this post (ell.stackexchange.com/questions/241584/…) , why does the answer say 'spine' should be replaced by 'spines'. What's the difference between the two sentences in the two posts?
    – Elizabeth
    Jun 18, 2020 at 4:16
  • 1
    @Elizabeth Thanks for the question, I've added some info to my post. In regards to your link, I'd hesitate to say more than that it isn't always that simple. We do have room to pick. There are some cases in which the distributive singular is wrong (see "Distributive Plural" in MLA link), in others it is obligatory (idioms, metaphors), but in this case, the key phrase from Quirk et al. is "may also be used to focus on individual instances."
    – Wehage
    Jun 18, 2020 at 9:46

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