the colour(s) of their hair [singular or plural?]

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siupeipei

New Member
Cantonese
Hi, I'm new here and I would like to seek your help. I would like to know if there are several people and some of them have black hair while others have red or brown hair, shall I write "the colors of their hair" or "the color of their hair"?

I think it should be "the colors of their hair" because altogether there are more than one color. But I'm not sure if this is correct, and whether others will think that each of them has a mix of hair colors, say brown and red.

What is the rule for using “The X(s) of Y(s)”? Say when should I use the singular or the plural form? And when shall I use the article "the" for X and Y? In addition, if there is a rule, does it apply to section titles as well?

Thanks in advance to anyone who responds.
 
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    As so often in English, there is no rule.

    The plural colours may suggest that each one has several different colours. But the plural colours may suggest that they have many colours between them.

    The singular colour may suggest that they all have hair of the same colour. But the singular colour may suggest that each one has only one colour in his or her hair.
     

    siupeipei

    New Member
    Cantonese
    Thanks se16teddy for your answer. :)

    Does it mean that both phrases, "the colors of their hair" and "the color of their hair", have two meanings on their own and it's up to the readers to decide what I refer to?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    A: "Today's experiment will answer the question, "Does hair colour determine emotional reaction?". In the next room there are several people and some of them have black hair while others have red or brown hair. I would like you to divide them into groups by the colour of their hair (adverbial modifying divide). The colours of their hair (noun phrase) will become significant as the experiment goes on."

    Adverbs have no inflection in the plural, nouns do.
     

    siupeipei

    New Member
    Cantonese
    Thanks PaulQ for your example. :)

    You said "Adverbs have no inflection in the plural, nouns do." I wonder whether you meant that for all circumstances or only under the context you've given. How about if the people do have mixed hair colours but in different ways, can I say "I would like you to divide them into groups by the colours of their hair (still adverbial modifying divide I suppose)?"
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    If the individuals had (i) black and blond striped hair, (ii) green hair with red parts in it and (iii) blue hair with blond streaks, then I would say, "Divide them up by the colour combination of their hair." or similar.

    If there were individuals with (i) black hair, (ii) red hair and (iii) blue hair with blond streaks, then I would say, "Divide them up by how their hair looks/is coloured."

    You will see that this avoids your question, but that is because it also avoids ambiguity.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    This is a "failure" or "defect" in English that we must use the kind of workarounds suggested by Paul. The formulation in your title is the perfect general form where there is a problem.
     
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