A has one pencil, B has one pencil, and C has no pencil.

Can I describe it as

  1. “three people have two pencils.”
  2. “A group of three people has two pencils.”

2 Answers 2


Three people have two pencils.

This is ambiguous. My first thought is that each of the three has two pencils for a total of six pencils, which is not what you mean.

A group of three people has two pencils.

This is unambiguous because to have is conjugated in the singular, referring to the group as a whole instead of the individual members. But no native speaker would ever say this, except when devising a math problem. Besides, I find it a little hard to comprehend how a group of people (as a singular entity) can own such small and personal items as pencils, especially when there are fewer pencils than members of the group.


Three people have two pencils between them.

This means exactly what you want: There are three people, and counting all of the pencils they own gives you the answer "two pencils."

  • Can I use “collectively” or “as a group” instead of “between them”? Three people have two pencils collectively/as a group. Sep 6, 2021 at 3:00
  • 1
    No, those choices aren't idiomatic. The meaning would come across but it would sound unnatural to say it that way.
    – randomhead
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:35
  • “collectively” is unusual, but I wouldn't say unnatural. (“as a group” is unnatural, though.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Sep 6, 2021 at 18:31
  • @Iloveeverybody That would imply a different meaning. Having something as a group implies that they are sharing the pencils. Sep 6, 2021 at 21:45

As described, the group doesn't have three pencils. The natural way to express your situation is neither 1 nor 2 but:

"A and B have one pencil each, and C has no pencil."

The way you describe the context is not a group of three people sharing pencils, but two people with and one person without a pencil. Therefore saying "Three people have two pencils" is incorrect, as this implied that C has equal access to the pencils.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .