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Heads of a thousand inmates were cut.

The heads of a thousand inmates were cut.

The head of a thousand inmates was/were?? cut.

Which one/ones are correct? It first seems to me that the second one is correct; each inmate has one head, so we use “the head”, and “the heads” follows. How about the third one? However, although it sounds weird to me and may cause ambiguity, the following sentence sound okay to me.

We have changed the size of our shoes.

I don’t know whether is it okay to write the first one. Does it have the same meaning as the second one? I have learnt from somewhere that the following pairs of sentences about are identical in meaning,(are they) so I wonder if I can apply that knowledge to this problem.

The people in England speak English.

People in England speak English.

I love the food made by my mom.

I love food made by my mom

This design aims for the harmony of form and function.

This design aims for harmony of form and function.

And could someone please write in detail if the additional “the” in each of the sentences have any slight changes in suggestions or something? I would much appreciate that.

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    I think you mean 'cut off'. – Kate Bunting Jan 20 at 15:55
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"Heads of a thousand inmates were cut." is wrong.

"The heads of a thousand inmates were cut." is technically correct, but rather awkward. I would say "A thousand inmates' heads were cut. "

"The head of a thousand inmates was/were?" this is wrong, as it would need to be "heads... were" because it is plural, unless you used "was," in which case it would imply that the leader of the thousand inmates was cut.

"We have changed the size of our shoes." is fine.

"I don’t know whether is it okay to write the first one. Does it have the same meaning as the second one?" It has the same meaning in that someone will understand you to mean the second one, but it is grammatically incorrect, as "the" is needed.

As far as the three examples are concerned, I cannot give a great answer as to why you cannot drop the "the". It may be because none of the nouns in the examples that can lose their "the" are possessive.

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  • Is the first sentence wrong? It seems to me that sentences like "Heads of person were found in a box" or "Heads of people were found in a box" or "Heads of different people were found in a box" are grammatically correct. Is it because the number "a thousand" in the first sentence is specified? A similar sentence is "I found legs of chicken in the refrigerator", I know "chicken legs" would be more idiomatic though. – TFR Jan 21 at 3:37
  • @TFR I am confident that the first sentence would have to be changed to 'The heads of a thousand inmates were cut." "The [pl noun] of [pl noun]" is how this type of possessive is expressed. "Legs of chicken" works because the chicken is not possessing the legs, but rather the legs are made of chicken (so "of chicken" is acting as an adjective). This is similar to how "planks of oak" is correct, but "Planks of oak trees" is incorrect (and would have to be "The planks of oak trees"). (Oak trees obviously don't actually posses planks, but this is just an example) – maxbear123 Jan 21 at 5:01
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The second sentence of the first group:

The heads of a thousand inmates were cut.

is grammatically correct, although it is unclear whether the inmates were beheaded, or some incision was made on the head of each.

The head of a thousand inmates was cut.

would suggest that all the inmates shared a single head. (This could be true if "head" means leader and not body part, but in that case the sentence is awkward and unclear unless context makes it clear.)

We have changed the size of our shoes.

is ambiguous and unclear. I suspect that it means that each person in a group has changed shoe size, in which case

We have each changed the size of our shoes.

would be better. It could mean that a shoe company has changed its standards of measurement, in which case a better sentence would be:

We have changed the sizes of our shoes.

or

We have changed the sizing of our shoes.

It could be one person using the royal we or the editorial we, but that seems unlikely.

The pairs in the third group of sentences have near identical meaning, and both forms are valid in each case. The addition or removal of "the" in these cases makes only a subtle difference

1A The people in England speak English.

1B People in England speak English.

1A implies that all the people in England speak English, while B suggests that many or most do, but perhaps not all.

2A I love the food made by my mom.

2B I love food made by my mom.

There is really no significant difference in meaning here. 2B might be a bit more natural.

3A This design aims for the harmony of form and function.

3B This design aims for harmony of form and function.

3A suggests that there is one harmony of form and function, which everyone agrees about. 3B does not.

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  • Sorry I did not make it clear in the example "We have changed the sizes of our shoes." Say I am a producer of cups. Now I have changed the size of handle of each cup of a batch recently produced. Do I say "We have changed the size of handle of our cups" or "We have changed the sizes of handle of our cups". Or are both sentences might be correct? I learned from somewhere that this is something called "distributive plurals"; one should use the one that would cause the least ambiguity. – TFR Jan 21 at 3:49
  • Also, is it okay to say "We have changed the sizes of handle of cups" or "We have changed the sizes of handle of cup" or “We have changed the sizes of handle of the cups"? I appears to me that all of them are grammatically correct and are okay to explain the situation. How many ways there are? – TFR Jan 21 at 3:56
  • @TFR I do not think that would be OK, for three reasons. 1) If "sizes" is plural, "Handles" and "cups" should both be plural. 2) It should be "the handles" not just "handles". 3) it should be "of the cups" or "of our cups" or some si9mialr phrase, not just "of cups" unless perhasp it applies to all cups in the world. So: "We have changed the sizes of the handles of our cups" would be OK. – David Siegel Jan 21 at 15:34

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