The expression(s) of protein A, B, and C was/were...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by pulaunias, Jul 28, 2009.

  1. pulaunias Member

    Hi there,

    I was told, in separate occasions, by two native English editors (one Ph.D in biochem, the other Ph.D in American literature; so I guess this is pretty true) that my sentnece:

    The expressions of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin were relatively stable during the whole process of healing.

    should be revised into:

    The expression of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin was relatively stable .....

    Can any one kindly advise why??? What is the logic here?

    Many thanks!

    By the way, the collagen and osteopon are just the names of proteins in bone.
  2. envie de voyager Senior Member

    Niagara Falls, Canada
    If these three proteins are regularly found together in the bones, then the word "expression" could be replaced by a few other terms which would all be singular, too. For example:

    "The amount of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin was relatively stable ....."

    "The present value of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin was relatively stable ....."

    "The combination of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin was relatively stable ....."
  3. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    The logis is probably that there's a single on-going process, namely the expression of various proteins. There aren't three separate processes of expression, one of collagen-I and so on. 'Expression' in the physiological sense* is a non-count noun, so you wouldn't pluralize it unless you had to, and then it would refer to different occasions or different kinds of expression.

    * Actually I was thinking of the liquid/substance secretion sense rather than gene expression, but the reasoning more or less holds for both.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2009
  4. Wishfull Senior Member


    In this context "expression" means "gene expression", right?

    I think "expression" of "gene expression" is an uncoutable noun.
    So you have to use singular.
  5. pulaunias Member

    Thanks envie de voyager.

    This phenomenon is new to me.

    By the way:

    Just looked back to the original manuscript, the sentence is:

    The gene expression(s) of A, B, and C was/were stable....

    Does the modifier "gene" makes any difference in favor of the use of singular forms? I vaguely remember the biochemist explained that the "gene" make the singular forms the choice. But I didn't quite get it.
  6. pulaunias Member

    Wishfull, you got it.

    You pointed a good one when I was trying to write the above reply.

    But, another ques:

    isn't it true that pretty much most uncountable nouns can be used in countable manners? Like water, performance...

    So if we are talking about the expression of gene A, gene B, and gene C, we are still not allowed to use the non expression as a countable non?
  7. Lagrangepoint

    Lagrangepoint Senior Member

    The Emirates
    English (UK)
    If I were to replace expression with transcription, then I would not use the plural, as I would not deem the 3 processes to be distinct and separate. Another way of looking at it is to replace expression with '[protein] expression process'. The process is similar in all 3 proteins, the end result being different.
  8. Wishfull Senior Member

    I think you are correct about singular/plural matter and I agree that your original sentence might be correct, logically.
    But as I'm not a non-native, I'm not sure.
    Once the natives say so, it is so, anyway. They think that is natural.

    And one thing for sure is that we have to obey editors in order to be accepted.;)
  9. Wishfull Senior Member

    I try another explanation.
    I searched "gene expression" at PubMed and hit 23485, whereas "gene expressions" hit only 117.
    As a jargon, the singular is preferred, traditionally.
    And it sounds natural as the jargon.
  10. pulaunias Member


    Thanks. I did that too, although with

    The only concern is that: how many other words are out there that require this kind of calculation but I am not aware yet? This is a bit scary.
  11. pulaunias Member

    Besides the "expression of A, B, and C was...",

    If I am to say "expression of A and expression of B are different', then I am forced to write "the gene expressions of A and B", right?

    This is quite interesting, never realized this kind of things before.
  12. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Let's try a negative version to see how that sounds:

    "The expressions of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin were not stable during the process of healing. "

    and the "singular version "The expression of collagen-I, collagen-III, and osteopontin was not stable during the whole process of healing. "

    We don't know if the experiment was designed to determine if the three genes are under the control of a single master gene (where they would be coordinated and a singular verb might be fine) or whether it's already known that that is not the case so the experiment is just looking at three different, independently-controlled genes where they might behave differently - in that case a singular verb would not be the right form - For example "The three expressions (or expression levels?) were variable in the early stages of healing but all became stable when skin regrowth was complete". The science of the experiment plays a role in answering this question. Then we can think about the grammar :)

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