Unneeded plural for a document title

When I worked for the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), we had an internal debate about the best way to create the plural form of the name for one type of document. The IASB publishes with each of its Standards a document called a ‘Basis for Conclusions’. This document explains conclusions the IASB reached in developing the Standard, conclusions it rejected and its reason for reaching or rejecting conclusions.

At one point, a question came up: what should we call more than one such document? Some people noted that the plural of ‘basis’ is ‘bases’. Therefore, they suggested that when we needed to talk about more than one such document, we should call it the ‘Bases for Conclusions’ accompanying Standards. In fact, some people felt strongly that this was the only logical conclusion.

Not a single ‘basis’

To my mind, that proposal was ridiculous. A single document called ‘Basis for Conclusions’ does not just contain one single basis for all decisions explained in that document. For a Standard of any complexity, the Basis for Conclusions explains a large number of decisions. Some of them are tightly connected with other decisions, some are loosely connected and some are disconnected.

Similarly, there is a whole range of reasons for those decisions. Some of the reasons are tightly connected, some are loosely connected and some are disconnected.

Not a separate ‘basis’ each time

Furthermore, some decisions for one Standard (and the reasons for them) are tightly connected with decisions (and the reasons for them) for other Standards, whereas others are only loosely connected or completely disconnected.

Not singular v plural

In summary, the Basis for Conclusions accompanying one Standard does not contain a single, monolithic basis of integrated reasoning underlying that Standard. And the reasoning underlying one Standard is not entirely distinct from the collection of reasoning underlying other Standards.

So, it makes no sense to regard ‘Basis for Conclusions’ as a noun phrase that is inherently ‘singular when applied to the set of conclusions underlying one Standard but inherently plural when applied to the set of conclusions underlying more than one Standard.

Bases and bases

I have one other practical reason for objecting to creating a pseudo-plural ‘Bases for Conclusions’. Unfortunately, although the plurals of ‘basis’ and ‘base’ are pronounced differently (as /basiːs/ and /basɪs/ respectively), they are written the same way (‘bases’). When most people read ‘bases’ (plural of basis), they will—unless they are very well informed and very attentive—read it as the plural of ‘basis’ and understand it that way.

What would I do instead?

If I wouldn’t create a pseudo-plural ‘Bases for Conclusions’, what would I do instead if I needed to refer to more than one such document? Depending on the context, I would do something such as:

  • rewrite the sentence to avoid having to use a plural.
  • use some supporting noun which can have a plural—for example, documents called ‘Basis for Conclusions’.   
  • Use some device such as italics Bases for Conclusions or inverted commas ‘Bases for Conclusions’ to show that this phrase refers to a type of document rather than to refer to one specific instance (token) of that type of document.

2 comments

  1. I agree that pluralising the Basis for Conclusions in IFRS Standards as Bases for Conclusions is wrong. As you point out, doing so suggests that each IFRS Standard has one overarching line of reasoning. Each Standard, of course, has many lines of reasoning, often interconnected.

    The second of your three suggested ways to solve the problem – modified – makes the most sense to me. That suggestion is to use a supporting noun that can have a plural. I don’t think your illustration of ‘documents called Basis for Conclusions’ works for several reasons. For some older IFRS Standards, the Basis for Conclusions is not a separate document but rather a section of a single document, similar to an appendix. Secondly, as IFRS Standards have become more electronic and cloud-based rather than printed, ‘document’ seems to lose its aptness.

    Perhaps ‘Basis for Conclusions sections of IFRS Standards’ would work.

    I tried using your first suggestion – rewriting the sentence – but the rewrites ended up essentially using your second suggestion (supporting noun). I think your third suggestion – use of italics or inverted commas to infer that ‘Bases for Conclusions’ refers to a document or section of a document – is too subtle.

    1. Thanks for the enlightening discussion, Paul.
      I’m not sure about your suggestion of ‘Basis for Conclusions sections of IFRS Standards’. Although the Basis for Conclusions for a handful of Standards in the late 90s was created in the form of an appendix to the Standard, they were moved off into Part B of the Bound Volume several years ago. And there were some slight differences in format and status between some of the cases, depending for example on whether they were approved by the IASB Board or were just a staff document.

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