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About cli pluralization


cli has tools to create messages that are printed correctly in singular and plural forms. This usually requires minimal extra work, and increases the quality of the messages greatly. In this document we first show some pluralization examples that you can use as guidelines. Hopefully these are intuitive enough, so that they can be used without knowing the exact cli pluralization rules.

If you need pluralization without the semantic cli functions, see the pluralize() function.


Pluralization markup

In the simplest case the message contains a single {} glue substitution, which specifies the quantity that is used to select between the singular and plural forms. Pluralization uses markup that is similar to glue, but uses the {? and } delimiters:

nfile <- 0; cli_text("Found {nfile} file{?s}.")

nfile <- 1; cli_text("Found {nfile} file{?s}.")

nfile <- 2; cli_text("Found {nfile} file{?s}.")

Here the value of nfile is used to decide whether the singular or plural form of file is used. This is the most common case for English messages.

Irregular plurals

If the plural form is more difficult than a simple s suffix, then the singular and plural forms can be given, separated with a forward slash:

ndir <- 1; cli_text("Found {ndir} director{?y/ies}.")

ndir <- 5; cli_text("Found {ndir} director{?y/ies}.")

Use "no" instead of zero

For readability, it is better to use the no() helper function to include a count in a message. no() prints the word "no" if the count is zero, and prints the numeric count otherwise:

nfile <- 0; cli_text("Found {no(nfile)} file{?s}.")

nfile <- 1; cli_text("Found {no(nfile)} file{?s}.")

nfile <- 2; cli_text("Found {no(nfile)} file{?s}.")

Use the length of character vectors

With the auto-collapsing feature of cli it is easy to include a list of objects in a message. When cli interprets a character vector as a pluralization quantity, it takes the length of the vector:

pkgs <- "pkg1"
cli_text("Will remove the {.pkg {pkgs}} package{?s}.")

pkgs <- c("pkg1", "pkg2", "pkg3")
cli_text("Will remove the {.pkg {pkgs}} package{?s}.")

Note that the length is only used for non-numeric vectors (when is.numeric(x) return FALSE). If you want to use the length of a numeric vector, convert it to character via as.character().

You can combine collapsed vectors with "no", like this:

pkgs <- character()
cli_text("Will remove {?no/the/the} {.pkg {pkgs}} package{?s}.")

pkgs <- c("pkg1", "pkg2", "pkg3")
cli_text("Will remove {?no/the/the} {.pkg {pkgs}} package{?s}.")

When the pluralization markup contains three alternatives, like above, the first one is used for zero, the second for one, and the third one for larger quantities.

Choosing the right quantity

When the text contains multiple glue {} substitutions, the one right before the pluralization markup is used. For example:

nfiles <- 3; ndirs <- 1
cli_text("Found {nfiles} file{?s} and {ndirs} director{?y/ies}")

This is sometimes not the the correct one. You can explicitly specify the correct quantity using the qty() function. This sets that quantity without printing anything:

nupd <- 3; ntotal <- 10
cli_text("{nupd}/{ntotal} {qty(nupd)} file{?s} {?needs/need} updates")

Note that if the message only contains a single {} substitution, then this may appear before or after the pluralization markup. If the message contains multiple {} substitutions after pluralization markup, an error is thrown.

Similarly, if the message contains no {} substitutions at all, but has pluralization markup, an error is thrown.


The exact rules of cli pluralization. There are two sets of rules. The first set specifies how a quantity is associated with a {?} pluralization markup. The second set describes how the {?} is parsed and interpreted.


  1. {} substitutions define quantities. If the value of a {} substitution is numeric (when is.numeric(x) holds), then it has to have length one to define a quantity. This is only enforced if the {} substitution is used for pluralization. The quantity is defined as the value of {} then, rounded with as.integer(). If the value of {} is not numeric, then its quantity is defined as its length.

  2. If a message has {?} markup but no {} substitution, an error is thrown.

  3. If a message has exactly one {} substitution, its value is used as the pluralization quantity for all {?} markup in the message.

  4. If a message has multiple {} substitutions, then for each {?} markup cli uses the quantity of the {} substitution that precedes it.

  5. If a message has multiple {} substitutions and has pluralization markup without a preceding {} substitution, an error is thrown.

Pluralization markup

  1. Pluralization markup starts with {? and ends with }. It may not contain { and } characters, so it may not contain {} substitutions either.

  2. Alternative words or suffixes are separated by /.

  3. If there is a single alternative, then nothing is used if quantity == 1 and this single alternative is used if quantity != 1.

  4. If there are two alternatives, the first one is used for quantity == 1, the second one for quantity != 1 (including `quantity == 0).

  5. If there are three alternatives, the first one is used for quantity == 0, the second one for quantity == 1, and the third one otherwise.

See also

Other pluralization: no(), pluralize()