Singular or plural for seconds



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


Posted 2013-07-03T08:03:00.213

Reputation: 1 791



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?


Posted 2013-07-03T08:03:00.213

Reputation: 2 674

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 – 2018-07-30T11:27:04.173


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."


Posted 2013-07-03T08:03:00.213

Reputation: 51 729

3Good 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. – snailplane – 2013-07-03T16:28:07.000

Jay, so one can omit "a" in "half a gallon" just because the singular form is grammatical? – None – 2013-07-03T17:49:16.720

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. – kiamlaluno – 2013-07-03T20:02:14.317

I would think that the reason that we say 1.0 seconds is because we also say zero seconds. – BobRodes – 2013-07-04T03:05:36.640

1To 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 – 2013-07-04T03:09:38.847

The difference between "a half" and "half a" is subtle, but there is one as I think about it. If I say "I have a half barrel of beer" that means that I bought 15.5 gallons of beer (strangely enough, that is the size of a "keg" of beer) in a barrel that holds that much. If I say "I have half a barrel of beer" that means that I have a barrel of beer that's half full. I would call these tendencies rather than strict rules, however. – BobRodes – 2013-07-04T03:17:57.757

@snailboat "1.0 seconds" That's an interesting point. I suspect it's because it's in "fraction form" even though it's exactly one. Like if someone was explaining adding fractions, they might say "1/3 seconds plus 2/3 seconds equals 3/3 seconds, or one second". That is, I think most people would say "3/3 seconds", plural, even though it's really exactly one. – Jay – 2013-07-04T21:41:06.570

@BobRodes True. But curiously, I've never heard someone say "a third gallon" or "a fifth gallon", perhaps because then it would be unclear whether you meant 1/3 of a gallon or that you already had 2 gallons and now you had gotten one more. – Jay – 2013-07-04T21:43:02.110

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 – 2013-07-04T21:45:37.293

@mplungjan Oh, my first sentence was ambiguous. I meant, "If there is exactly one, then we use the singular." Not "We ONLY use the singular when there is exactly one." As I tried to elaborate in the following paragraphs. – Jay – 2013-07-10T14:24:27.113

@mplungjan Umm, yeah. Read my original post and the following conversation about the use of "half" and "quarter". – Jay – 2013-07-12T14:03:37.117