5

In the abstract of a study published on nih.gov one can read:

These data suggest that canine feces have the potential to pose a significant health risk to Canadians in rural and [...].

Shouldn't "feces" take the singular "has"? I'm asking because, as far as I know, "feces" is a mass noun, not a count noun; so I'm perplexed by that plural usage.

Could there be differences in the above "have/has" usage between scientific contexts and everyday speech?

  • 1
    Faeces is a Latin plural, singular faex; the original sense was dregs. – StoneyB Mar 20 '13 at 18:47
  • 1
    good question. I'm thinking that the word feces is already in a plural form. Will wait for the expert. – EnglishLearner Mar 20 '13 at 18:49
  • 1
    From this ELL answer, it seems "feces" is uncountable. So I would go with has. – Mistu4u Mar 20 '13 at 18:51
  • 1
    Have is the answer you'll find in actual usage. Why? I don't know. – snailcar Mar 20 '13 at 18:58
  • 1
    To make this question even more confusing for carlo_r: I correctly guessed this was a Canadian publication because it said "These data suggest..." I would expect an American be more inclined to say "This data suggests" and also to say "feces has". – horatio Mar 20 '13 at 21:32
3

To me the use of "feces has" and "feces have" are both valid, and do have distinct implications, which are based on your "mass noun" instinct.

If you write "canine feces has the potential" then you are talking about canine feces in the abstract, uncountable sense; you are attributing to it a particular property that it has due to the basic fact that it is canine feces. (For example, dogs may have some bacteria in their intestine that can also infect humans, and some of this bacteria is always present on their feces; thus canine feces has [by its nature] the potential to cause a health problem. )

If you write "canine feces have the potential" then you are talking about feces in the concrete, countable sense: that is, you are saying that the problem occurs because of the quantity of feces that is present. (For example, the aforementioned bacteria might only infect a human who comes within a foot of the particular turd upon which it resides; thus canine feces have [by their presence in quantity] the potential to cause a health problem.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy