We are migrating from an old system to a new HTML5 web based system. The earlier system had the error messages like

  • "The message(s) was deleted successfully."
  • "Are you sure you want to delete selected message(s)?"

The approach of adding (s) for multiple messages seems dated. Is it still an appropriate practice in the industry?

The approach I feel right would be to show either messages or message based on the action taken. Is there any alternative which makes it generic irrespective of number of messages acted upon?

What are the current trends in the industry?

  • 2
    "adding (s) for multiple messages seems dated." - Ironically, I've gone the other way. Adding the plural "s" (as required) was always something I used to do, but in recent years I don't bother and just add "(s)" if it might be plural. This also seemed to be the "problem" of the finicky developer; the end users didn't really care. Btw, in your first example you have the "was"/"were" to contend with to make it grammatically correct (that bugs me more than the plural).
    – MrWhite
    May 12, 2016 at 12:08
  • 1
    I know. That was / were is more annoying indeed.
    – Harshal
    May 12, 2016 at 12:40
  • Handling plural forms in translations is (sans multiple numbers in one sentence) a solved problem for at least 20 years. Just find something that understand either gettext or XLIFF/CLDR plural rules specification and use it. (this is if you have translated versions; if you are English-only, n == 1 is good enough)
    – Jan Hudec
    May 12, 2016 at 14:19

4 Answers 4


How about pushing the development team to use some logic?

Based on the selected records - let them switch the string of feedback message. For instance, if the user selects only one record to delete, the system should understand it and show a message as 'The message has been deleted'.

If the user selects multiple records to delete, the system should show a message as '3 messages have been deleted'.

This pattern is in use with many email clients like Gmail, Outlook etc.

  • I agree. I have already mentioned that as an approach in the question itself. I am just asking if there is another way.
    – Harshal
    May 12, 2016 at 9:42
  • 6
    This IS the most user-centric solution. Anything else is a logic or coding solution. Always try to use natural language when communicating with the user. May 12, 2016 at 10:34
  • Is the newest version of Outlook specific? 2013 is not.
    – Midas
    May 12, 2016 at 11:59
  • 6
    This. However, it should be added that many languages have plural rules that differ from English. If you want to localize plurals, you need proper support for this in your string resources and/or formatting system. You cannot simply write if n == 1 return SINGULAR_STRING else return PLURAL_STRING. This is probably one of the major reasons, why people refrain from implementing proper plurals. May 12, 2016 at 12:22
  • 2
    @SebastianNegraszus, which is why every proper localization system like gettext or ICU has a standard mechanism for handling plural forms. Just use one.
    – Jan Hudec
    May 12, 2016 at 14:12

There isn't a consistent pattern, but it is clear that the best experience is to be explicit in your confirmation.

However if that is not technically feasible, then use non-specific copy that is equally applicable to single or plural actions

By saying message(s) it makes the user think about whether that was a singular or plural.


In a scenario of deleting multiple emails:

Gmail uses the first option:

enter image description here

Outlook 2013 uses the second option:

enter image description here

  • 7
    That Outlook one is just too scary - It doesn't give you any clue of what you're about to delete! May 12, 2016 at 13:59
  • 2
    @AndrewMartin ...and the default button appears to be Yes!
    – adelphus
    May 12, 2016 at 18:23
  • 1
    @icc97 you would think but I promise that was multiple messages!
    – Midas
    May 12, 2016 at 20:22
  • 1
    @AndrewMartin, just go the Engrish route: "Continue permanent deletion?" or maybe, "Deletion is permanent," with buttons "Yes" and "Okay." :D
    – Wildcard
    May 12, 2016 at 21:43
  • 1
    @Wildcard, sorry, it's early here! That reminds Me of a when I was at school and we used send network notifications that said "erase hard drive?" Network notifications only appear with an "OK" button! May 13, 2016 at 5:36

If messages are going to be logged to any sort of file, having a consistent form can make parsing easier. Further, if the number of operations performed is apt to be of interest, one may simultaneously solve single/plural issues and make it easier for the user (or a parsing utility) to find that number of one writes the notification as:Operation successful. Number of messages deleted: 1. The phrase "Number of" may be omitted if messages don't have any sort of identifier that could be confused for a count [if messages are numbered #1, #2, etc. then "Messages deleted: 3" could either mean that message #3 was the only deleted message, or that there were three messages deleted (which may or may not include message #3).]


The trends in the industry is to be clear about the action the user took. If you want to be generic, rewrite it to say something like, "successfully deleted." And don't make the user have to click OK, display if for a few seconds and perhaps with an undo button to allow the user to recover from an erroneous mistake.

  • 1
    This doesn't solve the problem of using plurals in cases that don't include confirmations. One of the examples given was "Are you sure you want to delete the selected message(s)" - in this instance the user requires confirmation of the action that are about to perform (delete message(s)) and instruction on what they are being asked ("Are you sure?"). best practice would be to adapt the message dependant on the number of items rather than obfuscate the item being affected. May 12, 2016 at 10:39
  • No, the system requires confirmation of the action, not the user. Can you refer to a standard that says this? An ISO for example?
    – Dgella89
    May 12, 2016 at 13:47
  • I see what's confused you - Maybe I shouldn't have used the word 'confirmation' there - The user needs to understand what is about to happen and what it's going to happen to - "Successfully deleted" is potentially one of the scariest messages you could see on an interface: "What's been deleted? Just one email of my whole inbox?!" May 12, 2016 at 13:57

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