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You can learn from a bot as its move is better than yours.

You can learn from a bot as its moves are better than yours.

Is there any "feeling" or "meaning" difference between these two if you hear them? Or there difference is so small to the point interchangeable (unless there are absolutely more than two moves and you want to be precise)?

  • Hmm.. intigruing question. But if I were you, I wouldn't use a noun at all. Why not, . . . As it moves better than you. . . – user178049 Feb 18 '17 at 13:57
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    I would only ever say moves, because if this is a game like chess, the bot makes many moves, not just one move. The first one actually sounds incorrect, unless we're talking about some situation in which there could only possibly be one move. – stangdon Feb 18 '17 at 14:22
  • What is a bot in your example? – BillJ Feb 18 '17 at 14:37
  • @BillJ It's a game playing bot in my mind. – CYC Feb 18 '17 at 15:21
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    You can say either, depending on your emphasis. If the emphasis is on a single, spectacular move, then use singular. If on its moves in general, use plural. – Robusto Feb 18 '17 at 15:38
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The first suggests that there is one particular move that is better than yours that you are learning from. If you want to invoke its moves in general being better than yours, you should use the plural.

While it is true that "a bot's move is better than yours" can be understood as being a general statement that can be applied to any of the bot's moves, its focus is on one move. That is, it is saying "If you pick any of the bot's moves, that one move will be better than yours." It's general it the sense that it applies to all of the bot's moves, but specific in the sense that once a move is picked, it applies to that one move. This probably sounds confusing, and usually this difference isn't important, but there are cases where the different types of generalizations do matter, and this is such a case. There's a difference between saying "If you pick one of the bot's moves, it will be better than yours, and because of that you can learn from the bot" and "All of the bots moves are better than yours, and you can learn from that". The first sentence makes it sound like just one move being better is enough.

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We can refer to the generic or to a general truth using the singular or the plural.

A bot's move is (always) better than yours.

A bot's moves are (always) better than yours.

Neither of those sentences is referring to a specific move or specific moves an unidentified bot has made, of course. They are referring to the general state of affairs.

A giraffe has a long neck.

Giraffes have a long neck.

  • There are many giraffes, shouldn't they have long necks? – CYC Feb 18 '17 at 16:27
  • English does not insist on it, @CYC. And that's the point. We're referring to the class via the plural, and then referring to an attribute shared by all members of the class. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 18 '17 at 16:28
  • So giraffes can have long necks or a neck? – CYC Feb 18 '17 at 16:31
  • You can say it either way. We're not robots who would get confused by it, but human. If you ever encounter a situation where there's ambiguity (you go to a remote planet and report back to NASA on the fauna), say it another way. Use the definite article : "The {beast} has three pointed skulls." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 18 '17 at 16:31

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