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I heard that a plural and a singular are not related to semantics but to grammar. Then If I ate two pizzas, it doesn't matter whether I say 'I ate a pizza or I ate pizzas'?

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  • Whoever told you that "plural and a singular are not related to semantics but to grammar" was either talking complete rubbish or was saying something relevant to an extremely limited context that you haven't understood. If you ate two pizzas, you could validly refer to this by saying I ate pizza (uncountable; you could have eaten a tiny bit of just one pizza, or all of any number of pizzas). Jan 8, 2021 at 15:14
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica I believe I said something of that kind in a brief comment at ell.stackexchange.com/questions/271460/… . It could have been much better expressed, but should be read in the context of that question's focus on "trousers" and whether the "natural" number of the item matched the grammatical number of the noun. My answer to the present question better explains the point I wanted to make.
    – rjpond
    Jan 8, 2021 at 16:26
  • @rjpond: oic. So that's my "something relevant to an extremely limited context" alternative. Syntactically, things like trousers and scissors are plural, even though semantically they're "singular". But for the vast majority of contexts, syntactic singular goes with semantic singular - and the same "principle of consistency" applies to the grammar and meaning of plurals. Jan 8, 2021 at 17:10

2 Answers 2

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If you had eaten two pizzas:

  • You could say "I ate pizza" (using it as an uncountable or mass noun - such nouns are singular). ("Rice" is another example of a mass noun. It is very rare to use "rices", though you might occasionally come across it where two different types of rice are being compared.)
  • You could also say "I ate two pizzas".
  • "I ate pizzas" with no number specified would mean that you had eaten two or more, but is not a very common wording. ("I ate some pizzas" is more common, but would suggest three or more.)
  • You could say "I ate a couple of pizzas".
  • You could say "I ate a pizza". Some people would find it misleading, but many people would consider it technically correct. "A" expresses a weaker sense of oneness than "one". If you said "I ate one pizza" then you would definitely be misleading people.

Grammatical number is, as its name suggests, a matter of grammar. However, this doesn't mean it can be divorced completely from meaning. It does mean that the relationship is not a straightforward one - in the same way that we sometimes use the present tense to describe future events, so there is no simple equation between present tense (grammatical) and present time. Similarly, the equation between grammatical number and real-world number comes with caveats. You may consider trousers to be singular, but grammar considers them to be plural (until qualified as "a pair of", when the noun phrase as a whole then becomes singular, because the word "pair" is singular grammatically - even though it means "two"!).

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  • It's very good, but it's better to say 'I ate pizzas is also right'!
    – user127881
    Jan 8, 2021 at 15:12
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If you ate a pizza, you ate one pizza, however big or small.

If you ate pizzas, you ate more than one pizza.

If you ate pizza, you ate a certain amount of pizza, whether (slices of) one or more,

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