It's not always clear whether to use bowel or bowels.
Sometimes the two are interchangeable.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
(Houghton Mifflin, 1996) includes in its entry for bowel,
- Often bowels. The intestine.
- A part or division of the intestine: the large bowel
In Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary (Collins Word,
1977), the first meaning for bowel is: an intestine,
an entrail; especially a human entrail; generally used in the plural.
The Collins COBUILD (HarperCollins, 1995) places bowel
and bowels together, indicating that they are very
similar, almost interchangeable in use, and has these definitions:
- Your bowels are the tubes in your body through
which digested food passes from your stomach to your anus.
- You can refer in a polite way to someone defecating by saying
that they move, open, or empty their bowels.
It's possible to use the words interchangeably, but in certain expressions,
one, not the other, is typically used.
- Use bowel, medically, to refer to a certain area
of the digestive system, as a noun: the large bowel
(intestine), the small bowel (intestine), or even
the bowel to mean the intestine. People never say
"the large bowels" or "the small bowels."
- Use bowels as a noun in certain expressions,
such as "move one's bowels." The word
bowels has a slightly less specific reference than
does bowel, as in this sentence:
Eating the strange new food upset his bowels to
the extent that he could not leave his hotel.
- Use bowel as an adjective: a bowel
movement, irritable bowel syndrome, bowel
wall, bowel obstruction.
The word bowels, in the plural only, also has a literary
or humorous meaning. You can refer to the parts deep inside something
such as the earth, a building, or a machine as the bowels
of that thing, as in "the bowels of the earth,"
and "deep in the bowels of the New York City subway