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First time here and grateful for any help that can be provided.

Are all the following sentences correct:

I would be very sad if roses were the only flower. [That is, if roses were the only kind of flower.]

I would be very sad if roses were the only flowers. [That is, if roses were the only flowers that could be found in nature.]

Similarly,

What if robins were the only bird? [That is, what if robins were the only kind of bird?]

What if robins were the only birds? [That is, what if robins were the only birds to see while bird-watching?]

If all are correct, do the subtle differences within each pair make any difference? To me, they mean essentially the same, and it becomes just a matter of which sounds better to the ear.

Thoughts?

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor
Original Post

Hello, AG, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

I personally prefer the plural with some modifier:

- What if robins were the only birds to watch?
- What if roses were the only flowers on Earth?

or some noun like "sort," "type," "kind," or "species," where "bird" and "flower" are used attributively (bird species) or in a modifier, either in the singular or in the plural (kind of flower(s)).

@AG posted:

I would be very sad if roses were the only flower.

What if robins were the only bird?

Your reformulations are certainly preferable but that aside, are any of the sentences to be rejected because they are grammatically incorrect?

I wouldn't say your first sentences in each pair which I transcribed above are ungrammatical but, while the noun being used in both parts of the sentence is the same (flower(s), bird(s)), there is a semantic inconsistency between the generic plural in the subject and the singular form in the subject complement. If you want to use the singular in the predicate, then it's better to use the singular in the subject:

1. Tigers are the only felines that like water.
2. The tiger is the only feline that likes water.

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