LawProse Lesson #202: Parenthetical plurals.

LawProse Lesson #202: Parenthetical plurals.

Should you use “(s)” to indicate that a noun could be either singular or plural? Competent drafters should avoid creating parenthetical plurals and craft better ways to express a thought. A parenthetical plural is formed when an “(s)” is added to the end of a singular noun to indicate that the statement may apply to one or more members of the category. The practice creates serious drafting problems. Does the noun take a singular or plural verb? If a pronoun refers to the parenthetical plural, should it be singular or plural? And what about nouns that don’t take a simple –s in the plural form (e.g., party)? Using “(s)” as a shortcut produces ungainly, unsightly sentences. For example: If the defendant(s) fail(s) to comply with the court’s order, the defendant(s) will be held in contempt of court. [One possible revision: If a defendant fails to comply with the court’s order, that defendant will be held in contempt of court.] When drafting contracts or statutes, prefer the singular over the plural unless the sense is undeniably plural (as when the sentence refers to a practice that is often repeated). Check every plural noun and make sure that it’s really necessary. You’ll enhance the clarity and readability of your documents. Further reading: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 685 (3d ed. 2011). Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English 135 (2d ed. 2013).

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