What is the plural of "presence"?
December 8, 2004 10:55 PM   Subscribe

What is the plural of "presence?"


The Internet has allowed traditional print information providers to improve their businesses by licensing content to websites and developing their own online presence.

Grammatically, presence is plural in this context, following businesses and websites. Is there a word derivation of presence that applies? Is it even appropriate to use in this way?
posted by werty to Writing & Language (14 answers total)
From the OED:

With pl. An instance of being present. rare.

a1635 SIBBES Emanuell ii. (1638) 10 There were divers presences of Christ, before Hee came

Though I suspect in SAE it is treated like the word "wheat"; a plural form technically exists, but is rarely used since the singular form covers both.
posted by RavinDave at 11:06 PM on December 8, 2004

What makes you think it's not "presences"?
posted by jjg at 11:12 PM on December 8, 2004

Not a direct answer, but a quick Google search shows several websites that are specifically about English grammar using the term "their presence" in their own copy, which I would say lends credence to the interpretation that the same form of the word is correct whether used singular or plural:

Natural Resources Canada GSC Guide to Authors

Grammar Station

Classic Language Arts
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:13 PM on December 8, 2004

I would say that "presences" is the only correct plural of presence.

What is happening here is that "their" is not being used as the possessive of plural "they"; it's being used as the possessive of the new neuter singular pronoun "they".

Eg: if anyone wants to go home, they should raise their hand.

That's why "presence" reads naturally in this context.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:19 PM on December 8, 2004

possessive of the new neuter singular pronoun "they"

I'd trust his answer . . . anyone that can use such terms freely is so high up in the grammar nerd stratosphere I can hardly see them!
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:24 PM on December 8, 2004

Except that he's wrong. This has nothing to do with the not-at-all-new singular pronoun "they".

This case is exactly analogous to the difference between
The party guests got in their car and went home.
The party guests got in their cars and went home.

In the first instance, you have a single object belonging to the collective as a whole. In the second, you have multiple objects belonging to members of the collective.

That's why you need "presences" -- because otherwise the meaning is changed to a single presence shared by multiple information providers, which is not, I think, the intended meaning.

More to the point, neither Merriam-Webster nor American Heritage notes anything irregular about the formation of the plural, so "-s" is the way to go.
posted by jjg at 11:35 PM on December 8, 2004

Why do we say "toward" in some circumstances and "towards" in others? Usually it's less a matter of "grammar" and more a matter of (what linguists call) "euphony".
posted by RavinDave at 11:35 PM on December 8, 2004

"Towards" is never grammatically correct, unless you're emulating a shakespearean sonnet (in American english, anyway.)
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:38 PM on December 8, 2004

"Grammatically correct" has little meaning. Native speakers in the real world still use it.
posted by RavinDave at 11:41 PM on December 8, 2004

Well, we were talking about grammar.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 1:01 AM on December 9, 2004

Towards is gramatically correct.

Usage Note: Some critics have tried to discern a semantic distinction between toward and towards, but the difference is entirely dialectal. Toward is more common in American English; towards is the predominant form in British English.

posted by shepd at 6:01 AM on December 9, 2004

if anyone wants to go home, they should raise their hand.

Oh, how that grates.
posted by transient at 7:17 AM on December 9, 2004

Don't look at me. I still rephrase "impacts" as "has an impact on" at every opportunity.
posted by lodurr at 7:25 AM on December 9, 2004

Oh, how that grates.

Better get used to it; it's perfectly good English:
While your high-school English teacher may have told you not to use this construction, it actually dates back to at least the 14th century, and was used by the following authors (among others) in addition to Jane Austen: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Spectator, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans], Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, W. H. Auden, Lord Dunsany, George Orwell, and C. S. Lewis.

Singular "their" etc., was an accepted part of the English language before the 18th-century grammarians started making arbitrary judgements as to what is "good English" and "bad English", based on a kind of pseudo-"logic" deduced from the Latin language, that has nothing whatever to do with English... And even after the old-line grammarians put it under their ban, this anathematized singular "their" construction never stopped being used by English-speakers, both orally and by serious literary writers. So it's time for anyone who still thinks that singular "their" is so-called "bad grammar" to get rid of their prejudices and pedantry!
posted by languagehat at 8:10 AM on December 9, 2004

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