I've just heard on TV Italian Prime Minister Berusconi slept with 8 women in a single night.

All those who watched BBC news may have heard this.

1. Such heads of states are few and far between.

2. Such heads of state are few and far between.

What is the correct sentence? I have a hunch that the plural word 'states' is incorrect in this context.

Please tell me.
1 2
RotterI have a hunch that the plural word 'states' is incorrect in this context.
Good hunch.

Singular: a head of state

Plural: heads of state

CJ
Thanks CJ

I guess it is the same with heads of government.

It is not heads of governements.

Let us take another example.

Companies have different units and each unit has a head. They may call them managers.

3. Heads/managers of divisons will hold a meeting on ..

4. Heads/managers of divison will hold a meeting on ..

What is the correct one out of the above 2 setences?
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Rotter3. Heads/managers of divisons will hold a meeting on ..
4. Heads/managers of divison will hold a meeting on ..
What is the correct one out of the above 2 setences?
Number 3.

CJ
CJ

5. Heads of departments are attending a meeting on ... [CORRECT]

6. Heads of governments are attending a meeting on ... [ WRONG]

Why is the reason for discrepancy between the 5th and the 6th one?

When it come to those presidents and prime ministers, it should be singular. Why is that?
In the expressions "of departments" or "of divisions", the nouns department and division refer to collections of people. The head of these collective entities actually directs the work of the individual people in the organization. You can even add "the" to these: heads of the departments, heads of the divisions. And you can express these as compound nouns: department heads, division heads. The technical term for this kind of modifier is 'complement'.

In the expressions "of state" or "of goverment", the nouns state and government do not refer to a collection of people. They are abstract nouns that refer only to the general properties of having something to do with a state or a government. As abstractions they are uncountable. Also, you can't add "the" to these. You wouldn't say heads of the state. They are more like fixed expressions. And you can't use them as compound nouns: *state heads. The technical term for this kind of modifier is 'adjunct'.

_______________

Actually number 6 can go either way. The speaker may be thinking of a government as a collection of people. In that case he can say heads of governments or heads of the governments or government heads.

_______________

In purely practical terms, a learner of English simply has to remember how each of these is used and imitate the usage of the natives, at least until it becomes clearer what the differences are. These differences are very subtle, and you can't expect to understand them right away.

CJ
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Thanks CJ

What a long and excellent reply!

Thanks CJ

It goes without saying that these things are very subtle. You are an ultra clever man at English. I wouldn't expect everybody to know the answer you gave me.

You touched on fixed expressions. I would agree with you.

You said it would be improper to say heads of the state.

However, I think it is correct to say 'head of the state'.

In some countries the prime minister or president is empowered to commute a death penalty to a prison sentence.

According to the constitution the head of the state is empowered to commute a death penalty to a prison sentence.

Is the above fine?

Only the punishment could be change. The judgment is still there. The person is a convicted criminal until the death; even after the death people will say he was a convicted criminal.
RotterYou said it would be improper to say heads of the state.
More properly stated, it would be improper to say heads of the state and still have the same meaning as heads of state. In a sentence where the desired meaning is heads of state, you can't change it to heads of the state without changing the meaning.

RotterAccording to the constitution the head of the state is empowered to commute a death penalty to a prison sentence.
Is the above fine?
It's fine. Here you have a complement instead of an adjunct. Here we are not talking about the abstraction "of state" anymore. Here we are talking about the head of a real physical "state", i.e., "nation", a collection of individual people.

CJ
CJ

Technically complement and adjunct are the same.

CJ is clever.

The word clever is an adjective. However, it describes CJ so it is both a complement and adjunct.
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