Brazil is suffering from a severe recession. Its president, Dilma Rousseff, is being impeached on charges that she manipulated government accounts; an interim government, led by Michel Temer, is in charge.

Not yet medal contenders. The Economist. July 30, 2016.

I don't get why 'charges' has been used instead of 'charge' above? Should it not have been 'charge' as she manipulated government accounts is just a single accusation. So, why then 'charges' has been used?

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    Please be sure to always link to the source of your quotes. It gives context but it also prevents issues with copyright! – Catija Aug 3 '16 at 16:08

There is a lovely Latin phrase which describes nouns that lack an ordinary singular use: pluralia tantum.  In legal jargon, "charges" and "grounds" are common pluralia tantum

Even when the word "charges" represents a single accusation, we tend to use the plural form.  We're really talking about the accusation in combination with the evidence and any associated legal proceedings.  Similarly, when "grounds" indicates a justification, we're talking about the justification along with the circumstances under which it applies. 

Unlike "grounds", "charges" is sometimes used in its singular form.  We can talk about a single charge of embezzlement, or compare one embezzlement charge to another.  The original sentence could have read "impeached on the charge that she manipulated government accounts" if she is accused of only one act of account manipulation.  However, if we do not know how many times she allegedly manipulated these accounts, it is simpler to let "charges" stand as plurale tantum

  • There's one particular example that crops up repeatedly on ELL. The vast majority of native Anglophones only ever have doubts, regardless of how many aspects of uncertainty are involved. But nns (Indians in particular) often say they have a doubt, which invariably betrays the fact that they're not fluent in mainstream English. – FumbleFingers Aug 3 '16 at 17:50

The phrase

on charges

has the same meaning as "on account of" or "because of accusations of".

The plural is used when speaking of charge(s) in general.

In your particular example, there are probably several surcharges involved, possibly one for each account manipulated. For example, in a car accident there can be a "driving recklessly" charge, but also "assault with a deadly weapon", "driving while intoxicated", "speeding".

If the singular was used it would be more specific

on a charge of
on the charge of

and specified by what the actual charge was.


It is idiomatic in NAmE and BrE to use the plural charges when referring to action before the bar, particularly in journalese. In the most common instance of this usage, a suspect is said to be brought up on charges whether or not there is more than one charge. Examples abound, as this link will illustrate.

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