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I found a sentence below:

When guided by a sense of moral purpose, they were able to channel their ambitions and summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

(Extract from a book 'Leadership in Turbulent Times')

As a ESL, it is difficult for me to find out the nuance between a sentence with the plural forms (e.g., ambitions) and with the singular forms (e.g., talents).

For me, it seems quite natural to put the singular form instead, because the word 'ambition' and 'talent' are both countable and uncountable at the same time. And this is why I think sentences of both forms are grammatically correct.

Then, why did the author chose the plural forms over the other? Is there any difference in nuance? I got a similar question with this sentence as well: One leader's skills, strengths, style may be suited for the times; those of another, less so. Why did the author put the singular form rather than the plural one?

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  • Welcome to English Language Learners! Please note: talents is plural as well.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 11:13
  • "For me, it seems quite natural to put the singular form instead, because the word 'ambition' and 'talent' are both countable and uncountable at the same time." But why do you think the singular form is more natural? For example, if I can both play the trumpet and juggle knives, those are two different talents.
    – stangdon
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 11:21

1 Answer 1

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Words like 'talent' and 'ambition' can work as non-countable nouns. They can refer to an individual's collective skills or hopes - for example, You could say that a person who can both sing and dance "has talent". Or, they could refer to collective talents or ambitions - for example, a popular television show 'America's Got Talent' showcases many people with many different talents. But, like many non-count nouns, if you can be more granular and break them down into quantifiable, countable items (eg glasses of water, or in this case, individual talents) then you can pluralise it because it becomes countable. So, it could be a stylistic choice, or it might be driven by the level of specificity in the context.

However, in your example, it is clearly talking about the ambitions held by different people - it uses the plural 'they', and refers to 'their ambitions'. If the many people referred to have different ambitions rather than working as a team to achieve one collective ambition, the plural is appropriate.

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  • Many thanks for the comment! But how about the countability of style? To me, a single person seems to have many styles (e.g., style of speech, style of walking, etc). The dictionary says 'style' can be both plural/singular, and is it okay to put styles in the last sentence: One leader's skills, strengths, style may be suited for the times; those of another, less so ?
    – user464688
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 12:23
  • @user464688 Exactly what I said in my answer - if you can count them, or you are highlighting their individuality, then it should be plural. If you were noting that someone had multiple 'styles of speech' then you've already counted them, it has to be plural. But if you said of someone "they have style" that could collectively cover the way they dress, the way they speak, the way they compose themselves etc
    – Astralbee
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 12:29

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