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Dear Sir/Madam,

I came across this sentence in an article saying 'All doctors in the hospital carry a bleeper.' As far as distributive plural is concerned, would the sentence be more accurate if it is written as 'All doctors in the hospital carry bleepers.' since all doctors are carrying the same thing. I based my opinion on an example from a grammar book by Micheal Swan: 'Tell the kids to bring raincoats to school tomorrow.' So, I consulted someone whose first language was English and the answer I obtained was --In particular, if there were to be any confusion with respect to the number of pagers each person carries, the singular is clear. "All doctors carry stethoscopes" may suggest that they will have a spare one to lend or give you. "All doctors carry a stethoscope" is clear -- Therefore,

'All doctors in the hospital carry a bleeper' is more natural than 'All doctors .....carry bleepers.'

However, he said that we must say 'All the students in the classroom blow their noses'. The reason is if there is more than one person in the classroom, then it should be 'noses'. This contradicts his previous explanation. I'm confused.

Please clarify this for me.
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I still remember vividly an example from a year ago, "Some houses in LA have swimming pools in their backyards."
They are called BEEPERS, not bleepers, though I do like the idea of a machine that makes a noise every time someone swears.

This is an area of English that doesn't have a clear answer. Usually it's obvious by logic which is meant. I would use "a beeper."
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Grammar Geek
They are called BEEPERS, not bleepers, though I do like the idea of a machine that makes a noise every time someone swears.

Bleeper - British English

Beepers - American English or pagers
Well there you go. I learned something new today.

So just out of curiorsity, is it also BrE to refer to being "bleeped" if you use a bad word on air?
sebayanpendamThis contradicts his previous explanation. I'm confused.
It's not exactly a contradiction.
Several doctors can, if necessary, share the same "bleeper", but students cannot under any circumstances share the same nose.
I think that this is one of the distinctions that makes a difference in the choice of words.
CJ
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Hmm, I know what phrasing sounds right but I'm not sure if I'll be able to give a coherent answer as to why.

The sentence "All doctors in the hospital carry their beepers" would be the equivalent of "All students in the classroom blow their noses," and to my ear at least, both sound correct.

The problem in trying to compare the examples you gave to each other is the use of the posessive word "their." The word "their" implies ownership by multiple people. In the example you gave "their noses" sounds okay because multiple people are owning multiple noses, which makes sense. If you said "their nose" the implication is that there is joint ownership of one nose, which is amusing to picture but probably not what the sentence is trying to communicate. A similar problem would arise if you tried to use "their beeper" for the doctors.

The sentence "All doctors in the hospital carry a beeper" would be equivalent to "All students in the classroom blow a nose," which is technically grammatically correct, but sounds extremely odd to my ear since I'm used to noses (and quite often body parts in general) having explicitly listed owners. It conjures up images of every student blowing a plastic model nose placed on the desk in front of them.

To me what sounds like a correct and natural way to get around this is to say "Every student in the classroom blows his or her nose."

I'm sorry if that was a rather vague answer, but I couldn't think of any better way to put it.

-Sam