Singulars and plurals, notably when using series of nouns

Kerkyn

New Member
Please remove this account.
Hi,

Why is everyone using "session manager", instead of "sessions manager", (11,120,000 versus 882 results, on Google), for a piece of computer software which "manages (multiple) sessions"? In a formal context, you have to know if the manager can manage one, or multiple sessions (at once)... so the use of plurals and singulars must be precise. Are people using "session manager", for simplicity, or are they really following a rule? Can we use both?

Another common example (918,000 versus 873 results, on Google) is "class (directory) path", instead of "classes (directory) path", for the "(directory) path of classes". Is the use of "classes (directory) path", incorrect, or more precise?


On a similar matter (though, for these cases, the use of plurals might be more controversial), would you use "system configuration directory", or "system configurations directory" (985,000, versus 37,800 results, on Google)? We sure, generally say the "configuration of the system", instead of the "configurations of the system", but are both usages correct?

Then, what about "system documentation", and "system documentations" (949,000, versus 15 results, on Google)? Generally, by "documentation", we mean a "collection of (help) documents", but can we use "system documentations" (without implying multiple, independent, sets of (help) documents)?

For "system specification", and "system specifications", both usages are about as common, though the word "specification", is similar to "configuration", and "documentation" (same suffix, and is often used, as a singular, to indicate a global set of pieces).


I want to be as precise as possible, and, if possible, be consistent in usage. I'd like to avoid mixing singulars and plurals, between different expressions ("system scripts", but "system configuration"... and whatever for "system specification(s)"...). I don't care about "common usage", when it is only a matter of simplification.


Thanks in advance for any help.
 
  • okey-dokey

    Senior Member
    English / UK, London
    Hi,

    Why is everyone using "session manager", instead of "sessions manager", (11,120,000 versus 882 results, on Google), for a piece of computer software which "manages (multiple) sessions"? In a formal context, you have to know if the manager can manage one, or multiple sessions (at once)... so the use of plurals and singulars must be precise. Are people using "session manager", for simplicity, or are they really following a rule? Can we use both?

    Another common example (918,000 versus 873 results, on Google) is "class (directory) path", instead of "classes (directory) path", for the "(directory) path of classes". Is the use of "classes (directory) path", incorrect, or more precise?


    On a similar matter (though, for these cases, the use of plurals might be more controversial), would you use "system configuration directory", or "system configurations directory" (985,000, versus 37,800 results, on Google)? We sure, generally say the "configuration of the system", instead of the "configurations of the system", but are both usages correct?

    Then, what about "system documentation", and "system documentations" (949,000, versus 15 results, on Google)? Generally, by "documentation", we mean a "collection of (help) documents", but can we use "system documentations" (without implying multiple, independent, sets of (help) documents)?

    For "system specification", and "system specifications", both usages are about as common, though the word "specification", is similar to "configuration", and "documentation" (same suffix, and is often used, as a singular, to indicate a global set of pieces).


    I want to be as precise as possible, and, if possible, be consistent in usage. I'd like to avoid mixing singulars and plurals, between different expressions ("system scripts", but "system configuration"... and whatever for "system specification(s)"...). I don't care about "common usage", when it is only a matter of simplification.


    Thanks in advance for any help.
    When using nouns as classifiers they are (usually) not pluralised. Also, the leading nouns in compound nouns are not pluralised. In nominal phrases it is the head noun that is pluralised (if required) unless it is non-countable (documentation is non-countable). If the head noun is a compound the last noun is pluralised.


    There is one session manager in a Windows system
    There are five session managers in a Windows Ultra-X system!

    The nominal phrases are one session manager and five session managers. We tend to put the stress on session rather than manager which is a sign that session manager is a compound noun. Manager is the last noun of the compound and so takes the plural marker. I understand that you are considering that there may be many sessions under management, but in English we do not pluralise the classifier. There are few exceptions: a goods train and an honours degree.
     

    Kerkyn

    New Member
    Please remove this account.
    When using nouns as classifiers they are (usually) not pluralised. Also, the leading nouns in compound nouns are not pluralised. In nominal phrases it is the head noun that is pluralised (if required) unless it is non-countable (documentation is non-countable). If the head noun is a compound the last noun is pluralised.


    There is one session manager in a Windows system
    There are five session managers in a Windows Ultra-X system!

    The nominal phrases are one session manager and five session managers. We tend to put the stress on session rather than manager which is a sign that session manager is a compound noun. Manager is the last noun of the compound and so takes the plural marker. I understand that you are considering that there may be many sessions under management, but in English we do not pluralise the classifier. There are few exceptions: a goods train and an honours degree.
    Ok, that's probably what I've been taught at school, but since some time, I've been doubting there wasn't anything else to it, considering the imprecision (not that it is anything rare...).


    Thanks for your reply.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Calling it imprecise is a bit harsh, I think. It doesn't follow the French convention, but each language has its own rationale for precision.

    Here's how I see it as an English-speaking applications programmer for the last 25 years:

    "System Configuration Directory" is singular because at any one time the system has a single configuration. "Configuration" encompasses all the settings within the system.

    A "Session Manager" is singular because the word "manager" includes the concept that multiple resources (people or programs) are being managed. A separate manager for each session is not a concept that makes sense in English. This function would be called something else other than a "manager".

    "Documentation" is an uncountable noun. No matter how many sets of documentation you have, it is all "documentation", not "documentations" (just as in English "information" is not pluralized to "informations", a common mistake made by French speakers.) To refer to a particular collection of documentation we use the word "set" - "sets" in plural.

    The words may sound similar to their French counterparts, but their behavior and their nature may be different. To put it down to imprecision is to ignore the differences between languages.
     

    Kerkyn

    New Member
    Please remove this account.
    A "Session Manager" is singular because the word "manager" includes the concept that multiple resources (people or programs) are being managed. A separate manager for each session is not a concept that makes sense in English. This function would be called something else other than a "manager".
    "To manage a user session", would be wrong? (to close it, to pause/restart it, to save its data, to modify them, etc. -"to direct or control the use of it"). Multiple resources are the multiple options and functions you can manage in a single and specific user session... (though even "to manage a binary flag value" seems clear to me, as there is two possible values, and probably multiple ways to manage them).

    "System Configuration Directory" is singular because at any one time the system has a single configuration. "Configuration" encompasses all the settings within the system.

    [...]

    "Documentation" is an uncountable noun. No matter how many sets of documentation you have, it is all "documentation", not "documentations" (just as in English "information" is not pluralized to "informations", a common mistake made by French speakers.) To refer to a particular collection of documentation we use the word "set" - "sets" in plural.

    The words may sound similar to their French counterparts, but their behavior and their nature may be different. To put it down to imprecision is to ignore the differences between languages.
    Well, it's not as if there was any effort to make things really precise... I mean, I rencently heard that a few hundred years ago, some French people decided to add some random letters to words (like quite a few double letters, like 'mm'), and some grammatical rules, to the French language, just to make it more look like older antiquity languages...

    For "information", "configuration", and "documentation" (but why is "specification" used in both its singular and plural forms? check "XML specification", and "XML specifications", on Google -this is only a matter of rules?), I understand there is not much imprecision (though it adds irregularities, which is absolutely disastrous for memorization, oppressing, and most frustrating -well, as most things today), but in the case of "session manager", I maintain that there is an imprecision... even more, with "user session manager"... you cannot know, without context/documentation, if the manager, manages one or multiple sessions, of one or multiple users... (and you don't know if "user" is associated with "session", and "manager", but this sure is the limit of using series of nouns...).


    Thanks for your contribution.

    I'll think a bit more about all this, though it sure would not be the first time I have to limit myself, to not stray too much from the norm... (well, until a later time).


    (I won't read further replies, I must get back to work -feel free to reply anyway, though, if it can help other people).
     

    Kerkyn

    New Member
    Please remove this account.
    On a similar note, one of my favorite TV series is "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" Why is it pluralized?
    I'd like to know too ^_^

    Is it because it is a "unit for special victims" (or a "special unit for victims")? (two independent groups of words).

    In this case, should I write "base scripts directory", if I'm talking about the "directory of the base scripts" (or the "base directory of scripts")? and "base scripts directories" (or the "base directories of scripts"), if I'm talking about "multiple directories of base scripts"?


    Thanks in advance.
     
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