There's an idiom "rub something in someone's face".

For instance,

I really screwed up my speech, and Caroline keeps rubbing the disaster in my face.


Your ex is rubbing a new relationship in your face?


Therefore, if I want to say "rubbing our relationship in their face(s)", should I use "face" or "face(s)"?


I read the sentence:

When cats rub their face or tail against humans, other animals, or household items, they are leaving behind this pheromone that they can identify.


Why are "face", "tail" and "this pheromone" all singular?


1 Answer 1

  1. If 'their' is plural then 'faces' should be plural. Two people, two faces.

  2. This is an example of singular 'they' (possessive 'their'). The sentence is speaking about all cats in general, but using a singular example of one cat's typical behaviour. We don't know the gender of this example cat, hence the gender-neutral third-person pronoun. It would be different if you had observed multiple cats carrying out this behaviour and were describing it - you would say "they rubbed their tails...", but when speaking in general it is common to speak about singular example. Pheromone is singular for a different reason - it is a substance and non-countable. So, even if you were speaking about many cats leaving this behind, you would use the singular. The plural pheromones would mean more than one type of pheromone. But "this pheromone" is referring to a specific one.

  • In 2, you can use faces and tails. But there’s a single pheromone that all cats produce. This is the same as in a sentence like Often in national emergencies more people donate their blood. You couldn’t say, *their bloods. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 9:14
  • @PaulTanenbaum That's kind of misleading on 2 levels. Firstly, 'blood' is a non-countable noun, like most fluids, so you cannot compare it with 'tails'. If you take blood from 3 people, you've taken some blood. And secondly, blood tests (which can be plural - 1 test, 2 tests) are commonly referred to as "bloods" as jargon by those in the medical profession.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 11:33
  • I was contrasting blood with pheromone, not with tails. And yes, pheromone is a count noun, so my analogy is less than ideal. Re your second objection, my meaning was that *their bloods was impossible in my example sentence. And btw, you object on the one hand that blood is a mass noun and on the other that bloods is sometimes acceptable (I know, the former refers to the fluid and the latter to a pathology test.) Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 11:52
  • @PaulTanenbaum Okay, I get your point - I hadn't addressed 'pheromone' but you've helped me recognise that it needed to be because it is singular for a different reason so I've updated. You're not quite right by saying it is countable, though. Types of pheromone are of course countable and it is quite correct to use the plural pheromones. But that's like any non-count noun - you can count separate, quantifiable amounts of it, which is why you could order "3 whiskeys" from a bar, even though 'whiskey' is non-countable. The 3 glasses of whiskey is still "some whiskey".
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 12:09
  • Absolutely. Cow’s, goat’s, and yak’s are three milks. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 12:20

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