Re: picture or pictures?

Giganews Newsgroups
Subject: Re: picture or pictures?
Posted by:  Eric Walker (ewalk…
Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003

On 4 Sep 2003 18:53:01 -0700, Hase wrote:

>Please read the following sentences.
>One week later, the school principal gave Lee Vang an award.
>Reporters took his pictures and the mayor shook his hand.
>In the second sentence, should *his pictures* be replaced by
>*his picture*, a singular form?  Someone told me that, in a
>case like this, no matter how many pictures the reporters
>take, it should be singular.  What do you think?  And, if
>possible, tell me why.

The sentence definitely wants the singular "picture".

In contexts like this, the phrase "his picture" is roughly
equivalent to "his image"--that is, how he looks, something
that is felt to be unique, no matter how many slightly
different views of it photographers can capture.  One would not
write "The artists captured the images of the king" when
speaking of one king, one person, for we conceive of him as
having one image: one person, one image, one "picture", however
many possible views of that image or aspects of that picture.

One must acquire some sense of idiom, or rely on context, for
matters like this.  The phrase "a picture of the king" will
always mean an image or representation of the king, because we
use the genitive form "a picture of the king's" to signify a
physical picture (no matter of what) that happens to be the
property or possession of the king.  But "the king's picture"
gives us no such easy out, and we must rely on context to tell
us which meaning makes sense in that context.

  Press photographers took the king's picture throughout the

  The king owns no paintings save one valuable Van Gogh, but
  last night thieves stole the king's picture.

Also, as Skitt has noted, the two uses of "his" in the second
sentence are guilty of having "indefinite antecedents", as one
cannot tell by grammar or by context (or what we have of it)
whether the intended antecedent is Lee Vang or the principal:
either reading would make sense.

Eric Walker
My opinions on English are available at



In response to

picture or pictures? posted by noah71… (Hase) on 4 Sep 2003