Should we use the singular or plural form in the following examples?

1- Performing the majority of daily activities requires the ability/abilities to read and write. (Ability sounds more natural to me, but technically speaking, we are talking about two abilities here: the ability to read and the ability to write.)

2- Getting literate even in later stages of life can enhance the sense/senses of happiness and fulfillment. (Similarly, sense sounds more natural to me, but senses sounds more grammatical.)

  • 3
    Both words can be used in the plural, but here they are uncountable, and sound natural when used in the singular. Jul 24, 2022 at 19:25
  • They seem to be countable according to Longman dictionary. It seems to me that the first meaning presented for both entries applies. Am I missing something? ability, sense
    – H D
    Jul 24, 2022 at 22:04
  • Although it's possible to be able to read but not write, literacy is usually thought of as one skill. Jul 25, 2022 at 8:20
  • Thank you. Does the same idea apply to the second example, "sense of happiness and fulfillment"? That is, happiness and fulfillment are closely related, and thus we should consider them the same "sense" and use "sense" in singular?
    – H D
    Jul 25, 2022 at 19:46

1 Answer 1


You can use either the singular or the plural.

If you use it in the singular, you're treating "reading and writing" as a single ability, and "happiness and fulfillment" as a single sense. If you use the plural, you're treating them as separate abilities or senses. It's very common for "reading and writing" to be addressed as a single ability (literacy).

If you want to be more clear that they are distinct senses, for example, separate them:

Getting literate, even in later stages of life, can enhance the sense of happiness and the sense of fulfillment.

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