Handling Plurals
Trail: Internationalization
Lesson: Formatting
Section: Messages

Handling Plurals

The words in a message may vary if both plural and singular word forms are possible. With the ChoiceFormat class, you can map a number to a word or a phrase, allowing you to construct grammatically correct messages.

In English the plural and singular forms of a word are usually different. This can present a problem when you are constructing messages that refer to quantities. For example, if your message reports the number of files on a disk, the following variations are possible:

There are no files on XDisk.
There is one file on XDisk.
There are 2 files on XDisk.

The fastest way to solve this problem is to create a MessageFormat pattern like this:

There are {0,number} file(s) on {1}.

Unfortunately the preceding pattern results in incorrect grammar:

There are 1 file(s) on XDisk.

You can do better than that, provided that you use the ChoiceFormat class. In this section you'll learn how to deal with plurals in a message by stepping through a sample program called ChoiceFormatDemo. This program also uses the MessageFormat class, which is discussed in the previous section, Dealing with Compound Messages.

1. Define the Message Pattern

First, identify the variables in the message:

Three lines of text, with the variables in each line highlighted.

Next, replace the variables in the message with arguments, creating a pattern that can be applied to a MessageFormat object:

There {0} on {1}.

The argument for the disk name, which is represented by{1}, is easy enough to deal with. You just treat it like any other String variable in a MessageFormat pattern. This argument matches the element at index 1 in the array of argument values. (See step 7.)

Dealing with argument{0} is more complex, for a couple of reasons:

2. Create a ResourceBundle

Because the message text must be translated, isolate it in a ResourceBundle:

ResourceBundle bundle = ResourceBundle.getBundle(
    "ChoiceBundle", currentLocale);

The sample program backs the ResourceBundle with properties files. The ChoiceBundle_en_US.propertiescontains the following lines:

pattern = There {0} on {1}.
noFiles = are no files
oneFile = is one file
multipleFiles = are {2} files

The contents of this properties file show how the message will be constructed and formatted. The first line contains the pattern for MessageFormat . (See step 1.) The other lines contain phrases that will replace argument {0} in the pattern. The phrase for the multipleFiles key contains the argument {2}, which will be replaced by a number.

Here is the French version of the properties file,

pattern = Il {0} sur {1}.
noFiles = n'y a pas de fichiers
oneFile = y a un fichier
multipleFiles = y a {2} fichiers

3. Create a Message Formatter

In this step you instantiate MessageFormat and set its Locale:

MessageFormat messageForm = new MessageFormat("");

4. Create a Choice Formatter

The ChoiceFormat object allows you to choose, based on a double number, a particular String. The range of double numbers, and the String objects to which they map, are specified in arrays:

double[] fileLimits = {0,1,2};
String [] fileStrings = {

ChoiceFormat maps each element in the double array to the element in the String array that has the same index. In the sample code the 0 maps to the String returned by calling bundle.getString("noFiles"). By coincidence the index is the same as the value in the fileLimits array. If the code had set fileLimits[0] to seven, ChoiceFormat would map the number 7 to fileStrings[0].

You specify the double and String arrays when instantiating ChoiceFormat:

ChoiceFormat choiceForm = new ChoiceFormat(fileLimits, fileStrings);

5. Apply the Pattern

Remember the pattern you constructed in step 1? It's time to retrieve the pattern from the ResourceBundle and apply it to the MessageFormat object:

String pattern = bundle.getString("pattern");

6. Assign the Formats

In this step you assign to the MessageFormat object the ChoiceFormat object created in step 4:

Format[] formats = {choiceForm, null, NumberFormat.getInstance()};

The setFormats method assigns Format objects to the arguments in the message pattern. You must invoke the applyPattern method before you call the setFormats method. The following table shows how the elements of the Format array correspond to the arguments in the message pattern:

The Format Array of the ChoiceFormatDemo Program

Array Element Pattern Argument
choiceForm {0}
null {1}
NumberFormat.getInstance() {2}

7. Set the Arguments and Format the Message

At run time the program assigns the variables to the array of arguments it passes to the MessageFormat object. The elements in the array correspond to the arguments in the pattern. For example, messageArgument[1] maps to pattern argument {1}, which is a String containing the name of the disk. In the previous step the program assigned a ChoiceFormat object to argument {0} of the pattern. Therefore the number assigned to messageArgument[0] determines which String the ChoiceFormat object selects. If messageArgument[0] is greater than or equal to 2, the String containing the phrase are {2} files replaces argument {0} in the pattern. The number assigned to messageArgument[2] will be substituted in place of pattern argument {2}. Here's the code that tries this out:

Object[] messageArguments = {null, "XDisk", null};

for (int numFiles = 0; numFiles < 4; numFiles++) {
    messageArguments[0] = new Integer(numFiles);
    messageArguments[2] = new Integer(numFiles);
    String result = messageForm.format(messageArguments);

8. Run the Demo Program

Compare the messages displayed by the program with the phrases in the ResourceBundle of step 2. Notice that the ChoiceFormat object selects the correct phrase, which the MessageFormat object uses to construct the proper message. The output of the ChoiceFormatDemo program is as follows:

currentLocale = en_US
There are no files on XDisk.
There is one file on XDisk.
There are 2 files on XDisk.
There are 3 files on XDisk.

currentLocale = fr_FR
Il n'y a pas des fichiers sur XDisk.
Il y a un fichier sur XDisk.
Il y a 2 fichiers sur XDisk.
Il y a 3 fichiers sur XDisk.

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