their death or their deaths

Mack&Mack

Senior Member
Korea & Korean
Hello,

I am wondering which one you would vote for.

A stroke is unpredicted that people can't prepare for their deaths once they are affected.

A stroke is unpredicted that people can't prepare for their death once they are affected.

I have just made this sentence up, so if there are errors please let me know. Thank you in advance. :)
 
  • dulish

    Senior Member
    Enlish-United States
    Deaths is better.

    The sentence is incorrect though, and even when it is corrected it sounds awkard. And "unpredictable" isn't the best word to use. It implies that you can't see it coming, whereas the rest of your sentece indicates that there is very little time between the onset of the stroke and death.

    Maybe you could say, "strokes occur so suddenly that one has no time to prepare for death once affected."
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I would use the singular "death".

    Do you mean that because a stroke is unpredictable, people can't prepare for it? If so, your sentence needs to be:

    "A stroke is unpredictable and people can't prepare for their deaths once they are affected"
     

    Zsuzsu

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Hi,

    I am also interested in this question because I never know when to use singular and when plural in cases like this.
    Can you explain dulish why you prefer deaths, and Dimcl, why death (however, you wrote plural in your sentence!)?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have two points to make:

    1. Plural or singualar death? English, unlike several European languages, requires the plural when people speak of more than one person each having only one of an object:

    The boys put their books on their desks could mean that each boy put his only book on his only desk.

    The boys put their book on their desk means that they put the book which they owned collectively on the one desk which had been assigned to all of them.

    By analogy I'd say People prepare for their deaths and I regard People prepare for their death as unidiomatic.

    2. I have genuine logical problems with the sentence we are considering. Suppose we translate it as "A stroke is unpredictable and people can't prepare for their deaths once they suffer one", what does that mean? We know that once you suffer a stroke, a second stroke becomes more likely (predictable?). You could argue that after suffering your first serious stroke you ought to start preparing for your death.

    I suppose my difficulty is that I don't see preparing for death as being something which takes a moment or two; for me it's a matter of several months at least. If we are saying Because strokes come out of the blue and are often fatal we can't prepare for our deaths, then I have no problem with that; but we aren't saying that. We are saying that once we've had a stroke we aren't in a position to prepare for death, which I regard as probably the opposite of the truth.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi TT:)

    I wouldn't say "book" (singular) in your example, but I think I probably would say "death" (singular) in people can't prepare for their death. I think that this is because it's a generalisation, akin to one can't prepare for one's death*.

    I would definitely, though, say The deaths of three people in yesterday's accident...



    *In practice I'd be more likely still to leave out the possessive: people can't/one can't prepare for death.
     

    Zsuzsu

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Hi there,

    What do you think of this:

    Those individuals (shamans and other eminent persons) who become ongons after their deaths are regarded as people of unusual willpower.

    I would choose the plural but am curious what those who chose the singular above will say.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Well, I would probably write it as "who become ongons after death" and avoid the whole problem. :) It sounds better to me with "after death", in any case.

    If I had to choose I would say "their death" because each individual dies only once and you are talking about the transition for that individual. This doesn't apply to all contexts for me.
     
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