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Example 1

They have a passport.

Example 2

They have passports.

Do both mean every one of them has only one passport? Usually one person only has one passport. So the context can help, I think.

I don't think anyone would mistake Example 1 for multiple people sharing one passport.


Imagine there is a event where ticket buyers get two drinks.

Example 3

They didn't buy a ticket. They don't have two drinks.

Example 4

They didn't buy tickets. They don't have two drinks.

The same question. Are both acceptable?


My guess is that both are ok and this principle also applies to other subjects like they, we, those people, those students, etc.

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    The negative is significant in changing how it works. "They have passports" or "They have a passport" implies they have enough passports to get them through border control. "They don't have a passport" maybe suggests they don't have any passports, or possibly that they are missing one passport, but it's less obvious.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 18:40

1 Answer 1

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I find (2) idiomatic (assumed to mean that they have one each) and (1) not. (I don't know about other countries, but the UK used to allow children to be included on a parent's passport, so they have a passport could have referred to a family group.)

(3) and (4) seem unnatural to me. Supposing a double ticket for an event entitled the holders to a free drink each, it would be more natural to say "They didn't buy a ticket, so they didn't get their [two] drinks".

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  • Is your sentence about the drinks still correct when "they" refer to more than two people?
    – vincentlin
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:18
  • It could be acceptable; They didn't buy tickets is more likely. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 14:09

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