Google has several interesting tools up its sleeve when it comes to translating or working with language in general. One of them is called N-gram Viewer.

Suppose you are in doubt about a phrase like Go and tell you wife when addressing an audience... Do we  need to say wife or wives - even if you're not at a polygamist conference... Or in the morning at school do I say Open your book, page 5 or Open your books, page 5? Even if each student just has one book...

The answer is that in English, when expressing possession collectively, even if each individual has only one item, we use the plural form for that item. For example:

The soldiers shouldered their rifles versus De soldaten schouderden het geweer

Such rules do not mean you may not have heard or read the alternative variant too. That's where the Google Ngram viewer comes in handy. It allows you to see the frequency of certain phrases or n-grams. An n-gram is a sequence of words (depending on the value of n that can be a monogram, bigram, trigram etc). As you can see in the charts below the stats are pretty convincing.


Occurrence of trigram all their life versus all their lives

The plural form is much more frequent.


Occurrence of trigram did not tell their wife versus trigram did not tell their wives.

No occurrences of the singular form at all - and if Google has it right.. no secrets at all before 1880!