2

His classic tale of a poor orphan boy strikes at the heart of all those who have ever wanted "more", as Oliver did.

Two questions about this sentence:

  1. Why not "hearts",since it says "of all those..."?

  2. Which aforementioned action does "as Oliver did" refer to, "strikes" or "have ever wanted more"?

2 Answers 2

2

His classic tale of a poor orphan boy strikes at the heart of all those who have ever wanted "more", as Oliver did.

Note: this sentence appears in an article from i21st, which is a Chinese website. The author of the article, and thus the sentence in question, is not a native English speaker. There are grammatical, spelling and other errors throughout the article. One might question the wisdom of relying on such a source if one wants to learn correct contemporary English.

Two questions about this sentence:

  1. Why not "hearts",since it says "of all those..."?

Short answer: the word heart is not incorrect. Neither is hearts, in certain usages.

There is an idiom to strike at the heart of something. The meaning of this idiom is "to damage something severely by attacking the most important part of it." EDIT: the idiom does not work here, as the idiom applies to inanimate objects, is a fixed phrase, and requires the singular heart. Here's another dictionary definition.

There is also a phrase in use: to strike at the heart of someone. Two examples in comments of the OP:

Jesus strikes at the heart of those who need to forgive others and those who need to be forgiven. (Source)

Brentlinger's insight strikes at the heart of those who decide to use scripture to harm, rather than to heal. (Source)

The meaning here is different from the idiom. The meaning is approximately to deliver a blow at/to the heart of someone or to deeply affect someone. The meaning can be gathered by a native speaker from the context. Frankly, I believe the construction of this phrase is a transferring of the idiom's wording (strike at the heart of) to a phrase involving people instead of inanimate objects.) Nevertheless, at this point, the meaning is not vital to the OP's question.[/EDIT]

And we are still left with the question of Why not hearts? And I come back to the answer that either heart or hearts here is correct, depending on what the author wants to stress.

The plural, or technically, the distributive plural, is the norm here. For example:

New Short Film Depicts the Lives of Immigrant Women in the U.S. (Source)

Women is plural. Lives is plural. Nothing could be simpler. However, note the relative clause in this article's first sentence:

...a short film that tells the story of millions of immigrant women forced by inhumane U.S. immigration policy to choose...

Here, women is plural but story is singular.

The title uses lives the distributive plural, which is the norm. The relative clause uses the distributive singular, which can be used...

when referring to a shared experience.

You can also use the singular at other times:

When you refer to the one body part that all people have

He broke the nose of all those who he met.

The next examples are based on 10.47 of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language:

When you want to focus on individual instances

We all have a good appetite.

The singular is obligatory with some idioms. The following idom should be familiar; notice that use of singular heart with plural institutions:

Yesterday’s shootings struck at the heart of Canada’s governing institutions (Source)

To avoid ambiguity

Children must be accompanied by a parent. (Only one parent is needed.)

For further reference: A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, by Randoplh Quirck and others. Section 10.47

His classic tale of a poor orphan boy strikes at the heart of all those who have ever wanted "more", as Oliver did.

  1. Which aforementioned action does "as Oliver did" refer to, "strikes" or "have ever wanted more"?

Oliver is closest to have ever wanted more, so that is what we expect.

And if we know that it is the character Oliver Twist who gets into trouble for daring to ask for more gruel, then it is clear.

5
  • Thank you for your kind response and detailed answer. I googled and found sentences like "Jesus strikes at the heart of those who need to forgive others and those who need to be forgiven." ,"Brentlinger's insight strikes at the heart of those who decide to use scripture to harm, rather than to heal."...Please forgive me for my non-native poor English...The idiom it self is solid, but it's not proper to be used in this sentence. Dickens couldn't be devastating people who like Oliver Twist in the novel, could he?
    – dennylv
    Nov 11, 2014 at 8:22
  • 1
    Well, these are two different things. There is the idiom I linked to. It has a fixed meaning and applies to inanimate objects. The usages you have found do not share this meaning. Jesus is not going around devastating or severely damaging people who need forgiveness. Neither is Brentlinger's insight doing that. And [The] classic tale of a poor orphan boy is not severely damaging/devastating all those who have ever wanted "more".* The approximate meaning of strike at the heart(s) of those who is deeply affect those who.
    – user6951
    Nov 11, 2014 at 11:28
  • Since there are grammatical, spelling and other errors throughout that article,as you said,would you please be kind enough to point out one or two of them for me?The article had been used as a teaching and testing material and it seems necessary to rectify the errors.
    – dennylv
    Nov 12, 2014 at 1:30
  • @dennylv I posted some corrections and suggestions here. I apologize for the length of that post. Please leave any questions at that page as a comment. Let me know here if you have any difficulty accessing that page.
    – user6951
    Nov 16, 2014 at 6:27
  • Thank you! I will have the pleasure of reading your post.
    – dennylv
    Nov 18, 2014 at 1:30
2
  1. They made a grammatical mistake. It should be "at the hearts of all of those who have" or "at the heart of each of those who has." (Good catch.)

  2. There is a famous scene in Oliver Twist where Oliver, a desperately poor orphan boy, asked for more food at a meal in his orphanage and was punished. Oliver wanted more.

Here is a link to a video clip of the famous scene (or one adaptation of it, anyway), if you're interested.

With regard to your question:

No offend, however, actually I have googled several examples of using "strikes at the heart of those who", are they all putting it incorrectly?

My justification for the plural versus singular form of heart:
Singular:
My reading of the singular is that there is a collective goal or purpose that these people share that is being attacked by the tale of Oliver Twist. This doesn't make sense in this context. You could say something like, "Tighter international banking regulations strike at the heart of those people who finance international terrorism." This would mean that the banking regulations damage the core operations of international terrorism financing. It would not mean that each international terrorism financier's heart was being stricken.

Plural:
In the plural, I read the sentence as saying that each person's heart is stricken, that is, they are emotionally overwhelmed, by the tale of Oliver Twist. This makes a lot more sense.

4
  • Thanks for your answer. The answer to my second question is quite helpful. No offend, however, actually I have googled several examples of using "strikes at the heart of those who", are they all putting it incorrectly?
    – dennylv
    Nov 11, 2014 at 2:55
  • 1
    Polite criticism should never be offensive, though some people find it so. I googled as well, and it seems as though using "heart" in place of "hearts" is a common mismatch. The sentence is idiomatic ("Strike at the heart of something"), and it appears that people are extending that idiom to the plural without pluralizing "hearts" as expected. I'm not enough of a grammarian to decide whether this is truly a grammatical mistake or if it is common enough to be considered proper English. "Strike at the hearts" is not common at all, but other verbs ("Pull at the hearts," for instance") are. Nov 11, 2014 at 3:06
  • So it may be kind of a rhetoric or flexible use for vividness, I guess.
    – dennylv
    Nov 11, 2014 at 3:16
  • @dennylv It may, or it may just be sloppy writing. I'm honestly not sure. We do both quite often. Nov 11, 2014 at 3:17

You must log in to answer this question.

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