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A. These kinds of problem are to be avoided.

B. These kind of problems are to be avoided.

Are both A and B grammatical? If not, why not? If so, after having noticed the parallelism between A and C, and between B and D, could we say that C and D are "standard" English, too?

C. These kinds of problem are ones to avoid.

D. These kind of problems are ones to avoid.

  • 1
    Can we go for a simpler one by putting such instead of kind(s)? A straightforward instruction: Such problem should/must/is(to) be avoided. The word such does refer to kind(s) of. Correct me if I'm wrong. – Maulik V Nov 28 '13 at 6:29
  • @Maulik Such problem is ungrammatical: we say either Such a problem or Such problems. – StoneyB Aug 30 '15 at 12:05
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Kind of X constructions are so commonly misused that the formal use I am going to describe might be labelled eccentric by a dogmatic descriptivist; so I’ll preface my remarks by saying that in conversation and informal use you may use any of your four variants, and no one will even notice, much less object.

First, kind vs kinds: let’s come at this from the side. Labrador is a breed of dog, and spaniel is another breed of dog. Dog [singular] is what logicians call the ‘genus’: when we invert the noun phrase we say these are two dog breeds, not dogs breeds; and we likewise say, in formal use, that “Labrador and spaniel are two breeds of dog [singular]”.

In the same way, if X is one kind of problem, and Y is another, we have defined two kinds [plural] of problem (singular).

When we use this construction in a sentence, however, things get a little tricky. The formally correct way of expressing what you’re after is

These kinds of problem are to be avoided.

But at this point a subtle difficulty intrudes. What you want to avoid isn’t really the kinds—it’s the problems. In ordinary conversation, there is very strong pressure to say problems, in the plural, because that’s what you really mean. And in conversation, that’s OK: you cast both nouns in the plural, and it’s perfectly acceptable:

?These kinds of problems are to be avoided.

(Note, however, that you never say These kind [singular] of problem; that’s a mismatch which makes neither semantic nor grammatical sense.)

But in formal use, this won’t do; you need to keep problem in the singular where it expresses the ‘genus’. So what you do is rewrite, ‘fronting’ problems to give it its proper status as the topic of your sentence, and postposing these kinds to make it clear that this is a qualification of problems:

Problems of these kinds are to be avoided.

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It just so happens that in ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’, Pam Peters considers these very sentences (coincidence?). She says that These kinds of problem are to be avoided

entails an abstract / noncountable use of the following noun (“problem”), and helps to synthesize the discussion in argumentative and persuasive writing.

These kinds of problems are to be avoided, on the other hand,

is simply a more relaxed form of the full plural construction, and tends to appear in interactive writing and live speech.

It seems that there may be more objections in the US than in the UK to these kind of, but corpus evidence shows that it is used almost as much in American English as in British English. Pam Peters also reports that ‘Much less visible than either is the combination this kind of problems, found only very rarely in impromptu speech.’

Of the other pair, she says that the problem with These kinds of problems are ones to avoid is that it becomes ‘a sweeping statement overstocked with sibilants.’

5

Fascinating discussion, and in an ESL/EFL teaching context, I would tend to keep it simple and say that kind of + singular or uncountable noun and kinds of + plural noun is the way to go.

I have found some interesting food for thought elsewhere online. The NY Times grammar editor has weighed in, as has Paul Yeager and Goddard and Wierzbicka in Meaning and Universal Grammar: Theory and Empirical Findings, Volume 2.

Let's figure it out together, and then next move on to world peace!

2

....kind of problems...

Here "kind" works as a collective noun.

To discuss in general, we should write as:

These kinds of problems are to be avoided.

Reason

Suppose there are a particular type of problems related to "politics". So a science magazine editor can say:

This kind of questions is to be avoided in our magazine.

Here "kind" means the questions related to politics. As "kind" is considered to be a single entity, "is" follows.

Suppose also there are a particular type of more problems related to "painting". So both of them are obsolete for a science magazine. Now the editor can say:

These kinds of questions are to be avoided in our magazine.

Here "kinds" means both the "politics" and "painting" related to questions are to be avoided. So two kinds make "kinds" and each kind consists of "questions"; hence "kinds of questions".

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    Can we not write : Suppose, there are particular type of more problems instead of "suppose also there are".? – Sweet72 Sep 12 '13 at 17:45
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IMO There is only one way to make this construction that sounds totally natural

This kind of problem is difficult

The reason is that we are making a statement, not about problems, but about "this kind". In the same way as we might say "this kind of mushroom is poisonous".

"These kinds of problems are difficult" does not sound incorrect per se, but it is less accurate.

These kinds of mushrooms are poisonous.

Which kind is the speaker referring to? All grey ones or those with pointy hats?

NOTE: The other option sounds totally wrong to me:

*This kind of problems

*This kind of apples

*This kind of people

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    71,000 written instances of that kind of people in Google Books says there's nothing wrong with your last three examples of totally wrong constructions. – FumbleFingers Feb 9 '13 at 13:35
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    @FumbleFingers I said it sounds totally wrong to me. And it does. – jsj Feb 9 '13 at 13:40
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    I don't doubt it. But I think you'll find your dislike of kind of [plural] is mainly governed by context. With nothing else to go on, you tend to assume this implies referring to a single instance of a single kind of whatever. Change it to that and you might well assume the reference is to multiple instances, but in both cases it's only the surrounding context that affects singular/plural interpretations. "I hate him! His kind of person annoys me!" vs "I hate you all! Your kind of people annoy me!" – FumbleFingers Feb 9 '13 at 14:07

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