## Schools are the only place or schools are the only places?

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Consider the sentences below:

"Cinemas are the only places where movies are being played"

"Schools are the only place where teachers teach"

My gut reaction is that "places" should be in plural form. However, when I Googled the second sentence with a singular "place", more results are returned with the plural form "places".

I am confused by it. Could anyone explain to me which one is correct, and why?

My feeling is that it will be place in both the sentences, mainly because of only. Cinemas or schools are plurals but here being considered as a single entity distinguished from other institutions. – Man_From_India – 2015-04-09T05:00:42.607

They are the only ones/men/women/kids to climb the Everest! Only + plural possible! @Man_From_India – Maulik V – 2015-04-09T05:12:30.270

@MaulikV true possible, but here in OP's sentences i think place is better. But that doesn't mean places are not correct :-) – Man_From_India – 2015-04-09T05:14:53.973

That's why I upvoted it. It's a good question and I'm finding it difficult to *not* use plural. Think this way -"Schools are not the only places where drugs are sold these days." Now make it singular, and it'll look odd. Really thought-provoking question. ;) @Man_From_India – Maulik V – 2015-04-09T05:19:45.833

1@MaulikV very true. I am yet to read Jim's answer. But I am sure he wrote a fantastic answer as he always does :-) – Man_From_India – 2015-04-09T05:30:50.520

Good question. This may be a case of what is grammatically correct vs. what is commonly said. I'd agree that plural "places" is technically correct, but sounds odd somehow even though the matching plural noun + are sounds fine. Not surprised you found more examples w/singular "place" instead. I also agree w/answers drawing the distinction between physical "places" and a singular type of "place". Using singular throughout may be preferable. Regardless, this is a subtle enough subject-verb disagreement that most person might overlook them, as opposed to a more obvious errors ;) – mc01 – 2015-04-23T21:50:42.530

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As Damkerng T. has helped illustrate:

Which one is correct and why?


Both versions of the sentence are correct. This version:

Schools are the only place where teachers teach

is treating Schools as an ideological category or type. In contrast, this version:

Schools are the only places where teachers teach

is treating them as physical places and/or locations. It would also be permissible to write the entire phrase singular and still be grammatically correct:

School is the only place where teachers teach.

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Both sentences are ok using place or places.

When we wish to treat a number of countable units as a set, we can serve logic by changing them into a single collectivity if we introduce them as a plural noun:

Cinemas are the best place to take someone on a first date.

We can avoid this switch if we designate them as a singular thing initially (as subjects):

. . . [M]ore than ever before, the cinema is the place for people to meet and enjoy the big-screen experience . . . .

When we do use the plural subject, we actually think of cinemas as a plural countable noun that all sum together into one one conceptual place where something occurs.

If a thousand people (plural) can gather onto a crowd (singular), then so can all/most cinemas, schools, etc., gather into a singular concept when we wish to discuss that collection or set, even if we omit explicit reference to this "gathering".

In reality, then, in

Schools are the only place where . . .

the message is really

Schools are the only type of place where . . . .

Or, perhaps more accurately, something closer to:

"The set or network of locations called schools are the only type of place where . . . "

It could also be that we really have something like "type of place of all possible types of places."

If we leave out the words "set of" in "set of places", we can see how a plural word (places) remains, but represents a singular concept.

Notice how the normally removed or only understood language which I have supplied here contains singular nouns, showing that it is in fact a singular concept being used with the singular verb.

In any case, we have a slightly complex thing happening here. The underlying idea conceives of a singular idea (type, set, network, category, etc.), but some of that language is left out, and some of it might be somewhat transformed so that it appears we are making a subject-verb number agreement mistake.

I believe that the uses in your examples would be acceptable to most "educated" or "professional" English users or "experts". However, some people would recommend reformulating such language to avoid the potential problem in readers' minds.

The examples you gave would be much more easily and quickly forgiven in speech than in writing.

The idea under which we leave out certain elements of language where readers or listeners are expected to be able to understand that those elements are really there or understood to be there is called ellipsis, but if you will search for it be aware that it is not the same thing as ellipsis or ellipses which refer to the punctuation mark (. . . ).

Ellipsis causes a great deal of confusion to English learners both in understanding and producing language, because although it is extremely common in English, it is difficult (some would say impossible) to consciously learn where we acceptably can and cannot leave out grammatical elements.

@MAR But I wanted +2 0.o – Jim Reynolds – 2015-04-09T14:13:54.763

Your actual answer is buried within this body of text. I suggest an edit that highlights whether the OPs sentences are correct, or not. This makes it simpler to find your answer, expecially for a SLL. – None – 2015-04-23T03:27:35.593

Agreed @paz. Although we have some good answers now, I'm in the process of reworking this so that it's coherent. Let's see if it can end up serving to complement the emerging quality in the answers and comments of others. – Jim Reynolds – 2015-04-24T07:37:41.080