Ashes (plural form but singular meaning?)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Teachmeplease, Jun 10, 2010.

  1. Teachmeplease New Member

    Does the word “ashes” have plural form but singular meaning?
    Can the word “ashes” take a singular verb?

    It is my understanding that the following words have plural form but have singular meaning.


    However, when I looked up for the word ashes in Cambridge dictionary, I found this sentence.

      • Her ashes were scattered at sea.

    The sentence confuses me. It makes me wonder if “ashes” has either plural or singular meaning. So please help me answer the following questions.
    1. Does the word “ashes” have plural form but singular meaning? (Is my understanding correct?)
    2. Can the word “ashes” take a singular verb?
    3. I wonder why, in the above sentence, “ashes” is followed by were, not was. Could you please explain.

    I am not a native speaker. If I make any mistake, I have to apologize for that.
    Thank you very much for your help.
  2. cropje_jnr

    cropje_jnr Senior Member

    Wollongong, Australia
    English - Australia
    Welcome to the forum.

    The only context I can think of where "ashes" would be a singular noun is the Ashes, an annual cricket challenge between Australia and England.

    In a more general context, I cannot think how this would be the case. Do you have an example?
  3. Teachmeplease New Member

    Thank you very much for your very very quick response. This is my first time posting a question here. I am very happy I found this forum. :)

    To look for an example,I googled and found this.
    "Today was my the 3rd anniversary of my grandma's death, so my family and I had to go to the temple where her ashes is kept for the ceremony to indicate the end of the mourning." Source: a travelblog website

    Please compare the above example with this sentence taken from Cambridge dictionary.

    "Her ashes were scattered at sea. "

    The comparison obviously raise a question about when “ashes” takes a plural/singular verb. Any help/clarification is highly appreciated.
  4. Hermione Golightly

    Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    SW London
    British English
    'Ashes' is always used with a plural verb.
    is wrong. It should be "where her ashes are kept"
  5. Teachmeplease New Member

    Thank you very much for your reply.

    Based on your answer, can I say that "ashes" always have plural meaning (while ash has singular meaning).

    Can I conclude that "ashes" is the only words that doesn't belong to the following group of words that are in plural form but have singular meaning.

    ashes (plural form and plural meaning, all others are plural in form, but singular in meaning?)

    Please kindly advise. Thank you very much.
  6. sasmith Junior Member

    There is a 'singular' word ash which has a slightly different meaning to ashes, which (for me) is hard to explain.

    One could say 'when I swept the chimney, the ash went all over the place', or 'when smoking you tap the ash into an ashtray'.

    I think I'm right in saying that an instance that would use 'ashes' rather than 'ash' is when making or implying a direct link between a substance (such as your grandmother's body) and the end result from burning (hence 'the ashes of . . '); 'ash' tends to just refer to the general dustlike material.

    Re the singular v plural thing - I think it's more relevant that 'ashes' is uncountable (so, arguably, neither single or plural) - similar to sand, or water, or dust etc. .

  7. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I believe that works and alms can also be used with plural verbs.
  8. That's right.

    So can economics:

    'The economics involved in running a business are often very complicated.'

  9. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Teachmeplease, your original list is doubtful.

    I cannot think of a singular usage for "alms" - "alms were given to the poor", not "alms was given to the poor"
    "works" can be singular or plural, depending on meaning "good works were done for the poor by the factory owners" (works=deeds) but "the coal works is a large building by the canal" (works=a factory)
    "ethics" can be singular or plural depending on meaning.
  10. Teachmeplease New Member

    Thank you very much for your explanation. Thank you again.
  11. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Speaking as one intimately acquainted with ashes as the result of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, there is nothing peculiar about ash and ashes and all the rest of the words listed are distractions leading the thread away.

    You can have one ash (plural "ashes"), just as you can have one snowflake and all the normal rules apply.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2010
  12. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    Outrage! The Ashes are fought over twice in a 4 yearly cycle. How can an Os get that wrong?


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