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Can something a plural describes be treated in two ways like collective nouns?

  • Cars are half disappeared.
  1. A group of cars are half disappeared. (individually)
  2. A group of cars is half disappeared. (collectively)
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  • In general, the word each implies a group of objects—two or more. The idea behind your question is sound. Each car is _____ vs. A group of cars is ________ could definitely refer to the same cars. The second part of the phrase "half disappeared" doesn't sound natural or grammatical. Maybe "mostly hidden"?
    – Ted Pal
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:01
  • @Ted Pal I want to just know a meaning of a plural can be considered both as individually and as collectively like collective nouns.
    – ABU
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:18

1 Answer 1

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In American English, collective nouns always take "is", but in British English, collective nouns can take "is" or "are". So, if you are writing for a British or international audience, you can't rely on the verb form to remove ambiguity.

In your example though, I don't see how any ambiguity could exist. I'm fairly sure that if you said:

Half of the cars have disappeared.

This would be understood to mean that half of the number of cars in the group had gone. I don't think anybody would assume that all of the cars had been cut in half, just because that is such an unusual scenario.

Assuming that is your meaning - that some of the cars had gone - "half disappeared" doesn't sound natural at all.

You can hyphenate words with 'half', such as "the glass was half-drunk". By hyphenating the words it shows that the "half" applies to the adjective, not the group. If you wrote that the cars were "half-disappeared" that would force the idea that half of the cars, individually, were missing.

enter image description here

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  • So, plural 'half cars' means both half of cars and cars in half?
    – ABU
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:46
  • @abu Sorry, I don't know what you mean by that question.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:47
  • I mean 1) halved car + halved car = halved cars 2) two cars of four cars = halved cars
    – ABU
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:50
  • @abu I've added an image, maybe that will help.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 9:55
  • We would say 'Half of the cars have disappeared', meaning 'half the number of cars in the group'. To say 'the cars are half disappeared' sounds unnatural and suggests the odd idea of half of each car having vanished. Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 10:51

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