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From this question by jess:

Is there a difference between using "number" and "numbers" when referring to multiple numbers? For example, when calling a merchant to inquire about multiple orders, should I say:

I need RMAs for order numbers 1 and 2.

or

I need RMAs for order number 1 and 2.

This question might sound stupid, but I'm not sure what the main subject is. Is "number" the subject and therefore should I use "numbers"? Or are the order numbers (1 and 2) the subject, so should I keep "number" singular?

FumbleFingers answered :

Personally, I'd say "for orders number 1 and 2".

while TecBrat answered :

I usually hear that as "order numbers 1 and 2", with the "s". Fumble's comment gives a good way to get around it anyway.

Which one is correct? Which one is wrong and why?

  • You could rephrase the question to avoid the assumption that either of them is wrong, if you wanted. – snailcar Jul 11 '14 at 16:35
2

In the first example, "number X" is modifying the subject "order" as part of a series. The "1" and "2" represent the place in the series:

I need RMAs for orders number 1 and number 2 (out of 5).

I need RMAs for orders 1 and 2.

I need RMAs for orders number 1 (ID# 56789) and number 2 (ID#56790).

Making "numbers" plural instead indicates that "order numbers" is the complete, more descriptive subject, similar to "tracking numbers" or "inventory numbers." That ties it directly to that item, no matter how many orders there are or in what sequence. This makes more sense if for example you provide a complete tracking number:

I need RMAs for order numbers 1234-XYZ-0987 and 1234-ABC-7890.

Of course this could also be shortened to just use "orders," which in that case is the complete subject & needs to be plural.

I need RMAs for orders 1234-XYZ-0987 and 1234-ABC-7890.

  • 1
    +1 because it's close enough. But your this could also be shortened to just use "orders" could be a bit misleading. Actually, the functional noun in your penultimate example is "numbers". What kind of numbers? "Order numbers", where "order" is another noun being used adjectivally. So in your final example you're actually discarding the original noun "numbers" and converting the adjectival "order" into a true noun usage (which is why it then has to be inflected for plural). – FumbleFingers Jul 11 '14 at 17:18
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Number is not the subject, the order is. Specifically, "order number 1" and "order number 2" are the complete names needed to identify which orders you mean. However, that repetition gets tedious, so I would prefer dropping "number" if it is clear that '1' by itself refers to order number 1.

My preferences:

  1. I need RMAs for orders #1 and #2.
  2. I need RMAs for the following orders: 1, 2.
  3. I need RMAs for order number 1 and number 2.
  4. I need RMAs for order number 1 and order number 2.
  • I'm confused by both answers. Neither number nor order is a subject. (I'm fine with the examples in both answers, though.) – snailcar Jul 11 '14 at 17:36
  • @snailplane: Obviously "subject" in this answer doesn't mean the grammatical Subject-Verb-Object categories. Myself, I'd be inclined to say the "operative nouns" here are 1 and 2, which may be further qualified by order and/or number effectively acting as "optional adjectives". – FumbleFingers Jul 11 '14 at 20:06
  • @FumbleFingers It doesn't appear to mean anything at all. – snailcar Jul 11 '14 at 20:07
  • @snailplane: Of course it does. Forgetting about the special "grammar category" sense, which we're obviously not interested in here, the subject of an adjective can quite reasonably be interpreted as the target (what that adjective applies to). – FumbleFingers Jul 11 '14 at 20:13

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