Can you use plural nouns to avoid referring to specific nouns? Please see my example below:

Packages will be delivered to the customers who have placed the orders.

If I write something like this, am I referring to general packages, customers, and orders? I'm not sure if I would want to use "the" since I don't want to refer to any specific packages/customers/orders. Is this sentence correct or is there some other way to express this kind of sentence?


Sorry, I must have been extremely unclear. Let me try this with a different example.

You need to confirm each order with the customer who has placed it.

I want to generalize this sentence into a general instruction.

You need to confirm orders with customers who have placed them.

If I write something like the sentence above, am I creating a generalized instruction that doesn't refer to any specific orders and customers?

  • Do you mean to say that each package will be delivered to the customer who ordered it, or are you trying to say something other than that? – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jun 16 '13 at 18:26

Idiomatically, OP's example wouldn't normally have any articles...

Packages will be delivered to customers who have placed orders.

...but that would be a rather odd thing to say anyway, since it's blindingly obvious in any normal context. If we change it slightly to something the reader might actually need to be told...

Delivery priority will be given to customers who have placed orders before 5 pm.

...then we still wouldn't normally include any articles. But optionally those (or much less often, the) might reasonably be added before customers. It wouldn't significantly affect the meaning, but some might feel it emphasises the difference between those particular customers and the ones who ordered late at night.

As to the singular/plural distinction, it's theoretically/grammatically possible to say, for example...

Delivery priority will be given to a customer who has placed an order before 5 pm.

...but in practice native speakers would rarely do this for that exact meaning and construction.

  • 1
    Your last example hints at the possibility that of those customers who placed orders before 5, one will be singled out for delivery priority. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jun 16 '13 at 18:33
  • @jwpat: The merest "hint", I guess. But I suspect mainly that lucky customer is a figment of your febrile imagination. If he really existed, I think the company's copywriter would have probably written ...given to one of the customers who has... – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '13 at 22:11
  • @FumbleFingers: Okay, I'm not sure if I'm getting it. Is it then possible to turn "Each order will be shipped to the customer who has placed it" into "Orders will be shipped to customers who have placed them"? Theoretically, I mean. I understand this is an awkward sentence but I'm trying to grasp this concept. Please advise! – jess Jun 18 '13 at 13:17
  • @jess: I'm slightly struggling to understand why anyone would want/need to say "Each order will be shipped to the customer who has placed it" (who else would you ship it to?). But putting aside jwpat's slightly perverse/contrived interpretation above, idiomatically we can often use singular when we're actually talking about the general (i.e. - plural) case. Consider, for example, the/a family that prays together stays together. That "really" means families that pray together stay together. – FumbleFingers Jun 18 '13 at 17:25
  • @FumbleFingers: Right, sorry, I understand that my example is awkward. But your example makes sense. So "you need to check each answer" is pretty much the same as "you need to check (the) answers", right? But then again, I think this is a bit awkward, too. I can't really come up with good examples! – jess Jun 19 '13 at 4:19

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