For numbers of seconds, is it smaller or equal to 1 we use second, larger than 1 we use seconds?

For example:

0 second
0.5 second
1 second
1.5 seconds


2 Answers 2


SOME of the rules around 1 are:

  • "X somethings" when X is not 1

  • For 1 and 0 amounts with decimals pronounced "0 point Y" and "1 point Y", it is somethings:
    0.5 somethings, 0.1 somethings, 1.5 somethings, 1.1 somethings

  • For quantifications ending on a something, we have half a something, a quarter of a something because it is still relative to 1 (or a)

The same is the case for time, weight, money and other quantifications.

  • 1 second/kilo/dollar
  • half a second/kilo/dollar
  • a third of a second/kilo/dollar
  • a quarter of a second/kilo/dollar - note a quarter (dollar) is one coin in the US.

  • 0 seconds/kilos/dollars

  • 0.5 (zero point five) seconds/kilos/dollars
  • 0.1 (zero point one) seconds/kilos/dollars

For the rest of the rules and exceptions and possibly perceived rules, have a read of the answers to Is -1 singular or plural?

  • Note: In America and Canada they have a coin called a quarter which is 25 cents, however, in Australia and New Zealand a quarter of a dollar is at least two coins: a 20 cent piece and a 5 cent piece. Single "quarter dollars" coins are not universal.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 30, 2018 at 11:27
  • What about 2 pints = 1 quart ;)
    – mplungjan
    Apr 24 at 12:17

We use the singular when there is exactly one. When there is more than one, even if it's just a fraction more, we use the plural. So "one second", "two seconds", "one and a half seconds", "1.4 seconds", etc. By the way, whether you spell out the numbers or use digits, the convention doesn't change.

When there is a fraction less than one, there are two common ways to say it. One way is to state the fraction and use the plural, for example, ".5 seconds" (pronounced "point five seconds") or "two-thirds seconds". This is more commonly used in technical writing. The other way, often used in more casual speech, is to say "[fraction] of a [thing]", and use the singular for the "thing". For example, "two-thirds of a second", "a quarter of a gallon". This second form is most used with ratio-type fractions, that is, we would say "1/10 of a second", but people rarely say "0.1 of a second". As an odd special case, with "half" we often omit the "of": "half a gallon", "1/2 a day" rather than "half of a gallon" or "1/2 of a day".

Zero always uses the plural: "The elapsed time was zero seconds."

  • 3
    Good answer. My only quibble is that I think 1.0 is exactly one, but we say 1.0 seconds anyway. I think you could say it's more about form than the number expressed by that form.
    – user230
    Jul 3, 2013 at 16:28
  • Jay, so one can omit "a" in "half a gallon" just because the singular form is grammatical?
    – user114
    Jul 3, 2013 at 17:49
  • 1
    @snailboat But 1.0 could be understood as something more than 1, for example 1.000000000000000001, that using less digits is shown as 1.0.
    – apaderno
    Jul 3, 2013 at 20:02
  • 1
    To further confuse the issue, we also say a quarter gallon, but a fourth of a gallon. We also say both a half gallon and half a gallon, but never quarter a gallon.
    – BobRodes
    Jul 4, 2013 at 3:09
  • 1
    @Carlo_R. RE "half gallon" See my earlier comment. I think "half gallon" is used but "third gallon" is not because half gallon is unambiguously 1/2 gallon but third gallon could mean 1/3 or 3.
    – Jay
    Jul 4, 2013 at 21:45

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