What number should the head noun have in a noun phrase complemented by an of-phrase, where the NP complement of of is headed by a plural noun? Examples:

the development(s) of these theories

the front door(s) of the houses

the ear(s) of the teacups

(I'm assuming here that each individual theory/house/teacup has only one development/front door/ear each).

Is there a rule here, or do we just decide which number to use from one context to another? In that case, based on what?

1 Answer 1


I assume that when you refer to ears of teacups, you mean the handles.

Front doors and handles are countable nouns, and there are multiple houses/teacups and usually one front door/handle for each house/teacup. This means that there are multiple doors and handles, so you use a plural.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, development with the meaning "the process of developing something new" is uncountable, so it would be singular in your first sentence. Note that there are other meanings of development that are countable, but the meaning is not applicable to this sentence.

  • when you see "the handles of the cups", how can you tell how many handles each cup has? Dec 20, 2020 at 13:48
  • 1
    Right, so plural if the noun is countable. Thank you :) This does beg the question brought up by @AndrewTobilko though...
    – Hannah
    Dec 20, 2020 at 20:03
  • And yes – I did mean the handle; you do use "ear" for this as well, don't you?
    – Hannah
    Dec 20, 2020 at 20:05
  • @Hannah I have never heard anybody refer to a teacup handle as an ear. The reverse sometimes happens though: a person whose ears stick out sideways is said to have "jug ears", like the handles of a jug. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/jug_ears
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 21, 2020 at 4:26
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    @AndrewTobilko You would use the plural in both of the examples that you quoted, so it should be "the right handles of the teacups are red". if you wanted to refer to the handles teacups/handles individually, you would say "the right handle of each teacup is red" or "the right handle of every teacup is red".
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 22, 2020 at 6:58

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