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My brains
Perfect sounding English could be wrong
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In the UK TV series ‘House of Cards,’ there is this line uttered by the beautiful female aid to her villainous Prime Minister:
I’ve been given the distinct impression … my presence here has more to do with my body than my brains.
(It’s about 14 minutes into episode 2/season 2 -She articulates the plural ‘brains’ very strongly, hammocking it just the way Brits like to do.)
Though it’s quite common to hear the likes of ‘He has a brain for high learning,’ the plural above seems outright wrong. Is there a reason that it might be right?
New River, AZ, USA
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Doesn’t sound correct to me, but “brains” is sometimes used in a sense that implies singular, rather than an actual plural noun. As an implied singular form, “brains” is quite common in English. For example: “He has the brains to solve that problem.”

Acknowledging the usual Google Ngrams cautions, see this comparison.

But in the context of the example you cite, it just doesn’t sound right.


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The plural there sounds natural to me. I don’t have a problem with it. In my speech there is a lot of overlap between singular and plural uses. Both can be literal or figurative with nuances.

When used literally, the plural suggests brain matter rather than an intact organ. When used figuratively, the plural suggests more generic capacity than specific skill.

The ME removed and weighed the brain.
The suicide shot his brains out.
She has the brain for theoretical physics.
He doesn’t have the brains for college.

In this case (“… more to do with my body than my brains.”), the plural suggests to me that general intellect is what is being referenced.

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Left brain – right brain – riddle solved – two brains make a brain :)

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