What are these animals called?

1) They are called a cat.

2) They are called cat.

3) They are called cats.

4) They are called the cat.

The first one doesn't look correct as I am not referring to one cat.

The second one seems problematic as a countable noun should either exist as a plural or be preceded by a determiner.

The third one seems promising as cats are in a generic sense.

The fourth seems wrong as I am not referring to any specific cat.

Which of the above is correct?

  • a countable noun should either be plural or preceded by a determiner. Be careful with overgeneralization like that. See this and this – user178049 Jun 26 '17 at 2:48
  • The plural of cat is cats. The plural pronoun they requires the plural antecedent cats. In English, prounouns stand for nouns. Have you learned about pronouns? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '17 at 6:17
  • @P.E.Dant I doubt if the pronoun-antecedent agreement is the reason for that. Since I am not saying "They are cats" where they and cats are referring the same entity. But "they" in my example refers to "These animals" and "cat/cats/a cat/ the cat" is intended to refer to the name of these animal, so they are not referring to the same entity. That's where I'm confused, they should have one name no matter how many of them. – user2720402 Jun 26 '17 at 8:04
  • Of course agreement in number is the reason that sentence 3 is the only correct English sentence. If we are referring to one animal as an exemplar of the species, we might say: "This animal is called 'the cat'." Here again, there is agreement in number. The species has one name, a singular noun; a group of members of the species is referred to in the plural: "These animals are called cats." I admit that the source of your confusion here is baffling. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '17 at 19:11

They are called cats.

This is correct because cats is a collective noun, meaning you a referring to a group of something. In this case, a group of cats. This works because the word they also refers to a group of things, such as cats and should be used when describing a group, instead of it or those.

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  • Then can I say "it is called cats" if the question is "what is this animal called"? – user2720402 Jun 26 '17 at 2:51
  • @user2720402 You can say "It is called a cat" or "They are call cats" – user36353 Jun 26 '17 at 2:52
  • @Amorris No, certainly not. One can't say "They are call cats." Why do you imagine that? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '17 at 6:12
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    @P.E.Dant Oops I meant to write "They are called cats". – user36353 Jun 26 '17 at 6:18
  • @Amorris Yes. That is the OP's third example and the only correct one. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '17 at 6:19

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