More on various types of whatever(s)

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Yesterday, we saw that in the publications indexed by Google Scholar, phrases like "two types of hypothesis|hypotheses" and "three kinds of question|questions" run about 75% plural; and a search in the Google ngram viewer supports the opinion of some people that there may be a tendency for Brits to prefer the singular and Americans the plural ("Various types of whatever(s)").

I took a few minutes this morning to compare some similar phrases as indexed by an American newspaper (the New York Times) and a British newspaper (the Guardian). In both cases, the plural preference is much greater, and there's no sign of a British preference for singularity (93.5% overall for the NYT, and 96.5% overall for the Guardian).

Details for the New York Times:

question questions answer answers idea ideas
kinds of 13 867 4 37 7 164
types of 23 197 11 16 7 17
sorts of 7 488 1 25 9 154
[sum] 43 1552 16 78 23 335
97.3% plural 83.0% plural 93.6% plural

And for the Guardian:

question questions answer answers idea ideas
kinds of 63 706 0 37 1 671
types of 58 416 3 6 1 244
sorts of 10 824 0 47 3 925
[sum] 131 1946 3 90 5 1840
93.7% plural 96.8% plural 99.7% plural



  1. Dick Margulis said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 8:14 am

    Perusing a couple of guides (American Heritage Dictionary usage note; Garner [sorry! it was a gift]; I'd look in Chicago, but the abominable index precludes finding it quickly), all the examples of preferred usage with {kinds of|types of|sorts of} show plurals, even if this pattern isn't expressed explicitly as a rule of good usage.

    My guess is that most copyeditors will change a singular to a plural in that position, and so it becomes the de facto norm that others adopt, and it comes to dominate the corpus (as shown by your analysis of two copyedited newspapers), even if it wasn't always the case.

    But it doesn't always apply, I don't think. If the emphasis is on the variety of types and not on the number of things, I think you're more likely to see the singular ("all the kinds of breakfast cereal at the supermarket" vs. "all the kinds of books in the library"). I'm not sure I can make the case for any consistency in that regard, though.

  2. DCBob said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 8:26 am

    Wow! You've made all kinds of comparison, yielding all sorts of insight into many types of problem! (But then, I'm one of those sorts of guy who finds these kinds of issue interesting.)

  3. markonsea said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 10:44 am

    The Guardian's "readers' editor" recentlyy clarified the paper's policy on articles contributed by North American writers, which is to leave AmE stet. Now that the "Grauniad" has a large international readership, these articles are becoming more common and may skew the statistics.

  4. David L said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 10:44 am

    Interesting — that's quite at odds with my experience. There can only be two possible explanations. Either (1) usage in the UK has totally reversed in the last 30 years, or (2) the data are fundamentally flawed in some way.

  5. David L said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 10:46 am

    Ah, while I was typing markonsea provided an explanation that falls under my second possibility. Excellent!

  6. Bathrobe said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 10:49 am

    I read the Guardian and it's not purely British. There appear to be plenty of American-written articles.

    I personally mostly use the singular and find the plural to be somehow "wrong" in a totally subjective sort of way.

  7. Guy said,

    August 29, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

    What's the data when the head noun is singular? "This kind of elephants" sounds highly unidiomatic to me.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 30, 2015 @ 12:14 am

    Guy: You're right, of course. The idiomatic form in America is "these kind of elephants".

    COCA says,

    these kind of [plural noun]: 339

    this kind of [plural noun]: 97, and some of them are mistaggings ("This kind of plays off of what your guest said…").

    Okay, I admit

    these kinds of [plural noun]: 2059

  9. Graeme said,

    August 30, 2015 @ 1:19 am

    Strict logic favours 'X kinds of [singular]'.
    Presumably logic is overwhelmed when the first two terms in the short phrase are plural.

  10. Guy said,

    August 30, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    Huh, I'm American and I would have said "these kind of elephants" is even worse than "this kind of elephants". I'm a little surprised that's even attested, actually. For me it has to be "this kind of elephant".

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 31, 2015 @ 12:12 pm


    "These kind of elephants" is used when the standard alternative is "these kinds of elephant(s)", not "this kind of elephant".

    Since you're surprised that "these kind of" is attested, all I can say is that we must move in different circles. :-)

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