8

I suppose you know you can turn into superwoman or superman in an emergency. Mrs Pam Weldon reported that her baby nearly slipped under the wheels of a car. Mrs Weldon weighs only 50 kilos, but she said she lifted the car to save her baby. Dr Murray Watson, a zoologist, wrote that he jumped nearly three metres into the air to grab the lowest branch of a tree when hyenas chased him in Kenya. Perhaps you wonder if you can perform such feats. The chances are that you can. Doctors say that we can find great reserves of strength when we are afraid. It's well-known that adrenalin can turn us into superwomen or supermen!

Source: Longman English grammar practice, L. G. Alexander, Page 11

I looked up both superman and superwoman in many dictionaries and they all know them as countable nouns. Shouldn't there be an a before superwoman in the first line:

I suppose you know you can turn into a superwoman or superman in an emergency.

  • The author is not using the indefinite article because they are probably referring to the specific characters of Superman and Superwoman. – user5267 Nov 23 '16 at 8:11
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    @AbsoluteBeginner: Good guess! But shouldn't they have been capitalized? – Mori Nov 23 '16 at 8:14
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    I would also have thought that Superwoman and Superman were proper nouns, as they are the actual characters names. In which case, yes, they should be capitalised. – mike Nov 23 '16 at 8:16
  • I thought I had better mention this, but I will not be voting on any of the answers submitted until next year :) – Mari-Lou A Dec 26 '16 at 12:17
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Short answer: The first usage of "superman" and "superwoman" should have been capitalized, because the author is almost certainly referring to the comic-book character Superman (and his female equivalent Superwoman) which are proper nouns (and should not be capitalized).

The second usage should also not be capitalized, because they are plural and so can't then be referring to a (singular) character name.

It's possible the editor thought that since the second usage is not capitalized, the first usage doesn't have to be. Or perhaps the author was trying to make a connection between the first and last sentences of the paragraph. Either way, it's kind of an "epic fail" in an English grammar study guide.


Side note: As far as I know there is no "official" comic character called "Superwoman". There have been a number of short-term characters introduced by that name, but the female equivalent of Superman is Supergirl, who has had numerous appearances in the comics and a currently-running TV show. Note also this isn't as sexist as it might sound because A) Supergirl is a teenager, and B) there have been various comics and shows titled Superboy, mostly about Clark Kent as a young man.

I know all that might be a bit nerdy, but it is useful context to know why the use of "Superwoman", as a proper name, might sound odd to some people.

  • The OP asked: I looked up both superman and superwoman in many dictionaries and they all know them as countable nouns. Shouldn't there be an a before superwoman in the first line ... shouldn't there be an a in the first line? You haven't answered this question. – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '16 at 8:04
1

My guess is that "superwoman" and "superman" here are an attribute (characteristic) of person. The idiom "to turn into" here reflects the meaning of "To cause someone or something to take on some character, nature, identity, or appearance; change or transform someone or something into someone or something".

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Superman - Here says that it can be countable and uncountable.

  • "I suppose you know you can turn into a Superwoman or a Superman in an emergency." I would think of the heroes of the DC universe.

  • "I suppose you know you can turn into a superwoman or a superman in an emergency." Is probably most correct but I can't see reason why the original should be incorrect.

Yet, I think the best choice would be:

  • "I suppose you know you can turn into superwomen or supermen in an emergency." Where 'you' isn't singular.
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+50

Shouldn't there be an a before superwoman/superman?

I'd say, there may be, provided that you mean one single (super)man/woman of the category of super human beings.

But it seems that in the context you provided, the two nouns are used in their general sense (without giving attention to details), and -man and -woman, being parts of superman and superwoman, are the nouns which can be used in a general sense without articles:

Man and woman were created equal.

The source: Michael Swan, Practical English Usage, Third edition, Page 63

1

Basically, yes.

They are countable nouns, and countable nouns should generally have an article. (As SovereignSun pointed out, Wiktionary says "Superman" can be uncountable, but I'm not sure I believe Wiktionary about this--I don't think it can, or at least, no more than any countable noun can be informally turned into an uncountable noun in an ad hoc way.)

So I agree that the original is incorrect. However, there are two possible corrections:

  1. Add an article ("a"), as you suggested.
  2. Capitalise "Superwoman" and "Superman".

I believe the second is closer to what the author is intending to say, although the differences are very slight. Being "a superwoman/superman" suggests that you are a member of a particular category; being "Superwoman/Superman" suggests that you are (or have a certain resemblance to) the fictional characters.

As categories, "superwomen/supermen" are not very well defined or widely talked about by the general public. The characters are very well known, however, particularly for traits like super strength (which is what's being talked about here).


Incidentally, this isn't the only mistake I see in this passage. In the last sentence, "well-known" should not be hyphenated. (It should only be hyphenated when it's next to the noun it's describing: compare "a well-known fact" to "a fact that is well known".)

1

"Superman" is a concept much greater than a comic book character, and a term which predates the comic book hero by fifty years. Friedrich Nietzsche describes an ubermensch as a superior person capable of doing things ordinary humans cannot:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9Cbermensch

It is the reason the infamous Leopold and Loeb thought they could get away with murder:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_and_Loeb

And the ubermensch was a direct inspiration for George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_and_Superman

This older definition of a superman may not have been the precise definition intended, but it's also impossible to disregard entirely. I think this older definition sets a precedent and understanding in the English language that a "superman" is not a unique person. The passage you cite should probably have used the article "a" before "superman" and "superwoman," especially considering they weren't capitalized.

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