I received the following grammar question:
Can you help with this? I’m confused.
Sentence A: My friends are in a lot of trouble.
Sentence B: I’m a man who’s made a lot of mistakes.
Why is it that “trouble” is in the singular form but “mistakes” is in the plural form? Why shouldn’t “trouble” be in the plural form as well or “mistakes” in singular form?
Although singular and plural forms of nouns are generally easy to learn, there are a lot of tricky areas. Let’s recap: a noun is a person, place or idea (a thing); plural means more than one. This is easy, but English also has a form of noun called a collective noun. This means a word that implies a group of things, but is treated as a singular concept. An example is “herd.” You can say “A herd of cows is on the road.” However, some nouns can be used either as singular or collective, depending on the context. This is the case with the word trouble; whereas, mistake can only be singular. One can have a lot of trouble, which would be a big problem with lots of implications. Losing your job would be a lot of trouble.
Sometimes we use the phrase “a lot of trouble” to indicate degree of difficulty. “If it’s not a lot of trouble, could you help me find the missing files?”
However, trouble can also be used as a plural. “He has many troubles; his car broke down, his dog is sick, he has a broken leg, and he is the victim of identity theft.”
A common wedding toast is “May all your troubles be small ones.” This is both a wish for a good life and for having children.
On the other hand, mistake always refers to a single incident; we use the plural to refer to them together. “Buying a Lada was a mistake. Moving to Oklahoma was a mistake. Not buying Apple stock was a mistake. I’m a man who’s made a lot of mistakes.”
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