QUESTION: Can I use “kind of” with a plural noun or do I have to use “kinds of”?
ANSWER: Yes, you can use “kind of” with a plural noun, but first consider the difference in meaning between “kind of” and “kinds of.”
“Kind” refers to a type. If you’re referring to one type, then use the singular form:
What kind of bread do you want for your sandwich?
(Wheat, white, oatmeal, etc. You may choose one.)
If you’re referring more than one type, then use the plural form:
They have all kinds of bread: wheat, white, oatmeal, gluten-free…you name it.
(They have a variety.)
Note that “bread” in both examples is being used an an uncountable noun.
However, in spoken English, the guideline for choosing between “kind” and “kinds” isn’t strictly observed. Do a search on GetYarn and you’ll hear numerous TV and movie characters ask a restaurant worker, “What kind do you have?” when they clearly expect to hear a variety of things listed, whether it’s salad dressings, pies, or scones. This means that context decides the meaning, not form.
“What kind of soup do you have today?” — The grammar of this question tells me the speaker is asking about the soup of the day. One type. However, some diners will use the very same question minus “today” in order to hear the entire list of soups offered at that establishment. In fact, here are all the variations of that request:
What kind of soup do you have?
What kinds of soup do you have?
What kinds of soups do you have?
What soups do you have?
A server would have to interpret any and all of those questions as a request to list the possible choices. I’d argue the first two questions with the uncountable noun “soup” are the most natural.
In written English, it’s easier to identify preferences. We have tools like Ludwig.guru to help. I’ve been using this linguistic search engine for a number of insights. Check out the rich results through a search on Ludwig.guru for “kind of things VS kinds of things” and you’ll see that 75% of the instances pair “kinds of” with the plural noun, and about 25% use “kind of” with the plural noun. The results come from reputable news sources like The New Yorker and The Guardian.
The results are even more telling on Just-the-Word, which pulls examples from the British National Corpus. Out of the 18K+ results listed for “kind of,” I spotted only a handful of instances where “kind of ” paired with a plural noun. More often “kinds of” was used. This suggests “kinds” is preferred to express a variety, whereas “kind” refers to one type or category.
I’ll use that guideline in the next set of examples:
[kind of + singular noun/uncountable noun/plural noun]
This is the kind of thing I warned you about.
(There are problems of a certain nature. I mentioned this category of problems before.)
That’s the kind of crime you don’t serve time for.
(There is a category of less serious crimes.)
I like the kind of people who ask questions.
(There are those who do and those who don’t. I prefer the first type.)
[kinds of + uncountable noun/plural noun]
They sell all kinds of cheese.
(They have many different types for sale.)
I made all kinds of mistakes in my youth.
(There were numerous and various mistakes.)
The final answer to the original question is that there are times when “kind of” can be followed by a plural noun, but it’s likely less common than using “kinds of” with a plural noun. More important, “kind of” + plural noun refers to a single type or one category.
A final related note is that Americans have made phrases like “all kinds of wrong” and “all kinds of crazy” acceptable through sheer frequency. We use “all kind of (something)” to refer to a large amount. Sticking adjectives in that structure allows to intensify the degree of that quality. In other words, “all kinds of wrong” means “very wrong” and “all kinds of crazy” means “really crazy.” You can hear all kinds of examples (wink, wink) on GetYarn and even a few more on YouGlish. Since we’re referring to degree or an amount rather than instances, singular verbs are used despite “kinds” being plural. For example, in movie review on Bleeding Cool, Jeremy Konrad tells us about Stephen King’s latest book-to-screen adaptation: “[S]o there is all kinds of crazy that can go on the screen in this one.” (I.e., Stephen King created a lot of crazy content.) This informal use of “all kinds of (something)” is one more example of letting the context decide the meaning, not the form.
Featured photo by ElisaRiva. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/questions-demand-doubts-psychology-1922477/.