August 29, 2013

Weekly Language Usage Tips: there are no right or wrong answers OR there is no right or wrong answer

Posted in there is no right or wrong answer/there are no... at 6:39 am by dlseltzer

Tip: There are no right or wrong answers OR there is no right or wrong answer

A reader writes:

As I am writing the introduction for my quantitative questionnaire using Microsoft Word, I find myself, once again, pondering whether it is ‘there are no right or wrong answers’ OR ‘there is no right or wrong answer.’

Of course, I turned to WLUT for the answer, but could not find where this topic had been discussed. Can you advise?

Thanks!

 First, both are grammatically correct, so either would be okay. When I read the reader’s email, I heard a voice in my head intoning, “There are no right or wrong answers, just answers that are true for you.” It must relate to some questionnaire that I repeatedly took in the past—or maybe to a survey that I administered over and over again in some past life. I don’t know, but the sentence certainly resonates.

The voice in my head used the plural form: there are no right or wrong answers. I think I would, too, since we are referring to all of the questions on the instrument. If we were just referring to one question, then the singular form would be fine, but since we are referring to multiple answers, I would stick to the plural. For the fun of it, I ran a google fight for the two wordings, and ‘there are no right and wrong answers’ was the clear winner with 141 million hits compared with a mere 80 million hits for ‘there is no right or wrong answer.’ I think it would be alright to use either wording. I just hope your answers are true for you.

[NOTE: I know there is some controversy whether ‘alright’ is alright or whether it should be ‘all right.’ I think ‘alright’ is fine, but I probably would avoid it in my formal writing because I know some readers would object.]

1 Comment »

  1. tim maguire said,

    As I hear it in my own head, it is spoken by a teacher at the beginning of the semester. He uses the term generally as part of his philosophy of teaching. Therefore, I hear “there are no right or wrong answers.” This solution appears most apt for this situation.

    But, as you point out, if the phrase were applied to a single question, the proper usage would be “there is no right or wrong answer.”


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