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This site says

You use a plural count noun with no article if you mean all or any of that thing.

I don't like dogs.

Do they have children?

I don't need questions. Give me answers!

I don't understand what "all or any of that thing" means?

The above guideline makes sense in general sentences such as "he likes apples" ("he likes all apples in the world") or "he doesn't eat apples" ("he doesn't eat all apples in the world").

But, what about specific sentences? Let say, there is a man. He has 3 apples with him. He is holding an apple & eating that apple. These other 2 apples are on the table. Which would I say?

  • "He is eating some apples" sounds ok.

  • "He is eating 3 apples" could be wrong to me because he may eat up 3 apples but he may eat only 1 & then stop eating.

  • "He is eating apples" could mean "He is eating all apples in the world"

The above rule is ok for sentences refer to general things such as "He likes apples" or "He doesn't eat apples" But is that rule ok for sentences refer to specific things such as "He is eating apples" or "I ate apples yesterday"?

So does the above rule only apply to some certain sentences?

  • "All or any" is a poor choice of words. It means the thing referred to in general; i.e., generically or conceptually, rather than specific examples of it. "I don't like dogs" means dogs, in general. But they might make an exception for a specific dog they like. So it really isn't "all or any". "Do they have children" may seem to be about specific children (their children), but the asker doesn't know if they even have children. So the question is really, "Have they spawned any young humans?" "He is eating apples" is correct because it is just a general reference to the kind of fruit. – fixer1234 Jun 30 '17 at 20:53
  • Why would the rule be okay for "He likes apples" and not "He is eating apples"? likes and is eating are replaceable verb phrases. – Spencer Williams Jun 7 '18 at 21:41
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The rule says to use the plural to mean either "all" or "any" of that thing. You have to figure out which of these from the context.

Someone ate the donuts (they ate all the donuts that were in a particular place)

I bought us donuts (I bought some quantity of donuts)

She hates donuts (She does not like (to eat) donuts of any kind)

Basic logic applies here. If a man has three apples and you say "The man is eating apples" it would be silly to assume he's eating all the apples in the world. The more reasonable assumption is that he will eat at most those three apples.

Of course he could eat one, or two, or all three of the apples. The exact number is unspecified, and unimportant. The point is that he is eating apples, and not something else.

Outside the window, I see birds flying. (It doesn't matter how many birds, just that there are birds)

My mother bought me shoes for my birthday (It could be one pair, or multiple pairs of shoes. Which is not important, the point is that I was given shoes)

This room is where they store computers before they sent to the customer (The number of computers is not important, only that this room is used for their storage).

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The rule isn't saying that we ONLY use a plural count noun with no article to mean any or all of that thing.

When talking about "any or all" of something, it's true we use a plural noun with no article, but we also use plural nouns with no article when we are referring to an unspecified number (but more than one).

For example, it's perfectly acceptable to say

I have kids.

This doesn't mean you have all the kids in the world. It just means you have more than one.

The rule isn't wrong, the rule is just telling you one possible meaning of a plural noun. It's not the only meaning.

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First, “all of that thing” doesn’t mean “all the apples in the world," as in “every single apple in the world.” The actual meaning is closer to "all kinds of apples."

So, if I say, “He likes apples,” that means he likes all kinds of apples: sweet red apples and tart green apples; it means he likes Fujis and Galas and Empires, he likes Macintoshes, Golden Delicious and Arkansas Blacks.

More importantly, though “all kinds of apples” is a generality, not a strict mathematical truth. I may say, “He likes apples,” but that doesn’t mean he likes rotten apples.

So this conversion is perfectly normal:

Ned: Do you like apples?
Ted: I sure do!
Ned: Really? Take one of these.
Ted: No, thanks, I don’t like Granny Smiths.
Red: Oh, I thought you said you liked apples.
Ted: Well, I do. But Granny Smiths are too tart for me.

Ted wasn’t lying; he likes pretty much most kinds of apples. Ned just happened to have one of the few apples that Ted doesn’t care for. But it’s still not “wrong” for Ted to say, “I like apples.”

If there are 30 kinds of apples in the world, and you like 28 of them, it would be more inaccurate to say, “I don’t like apples.”

“He is eating apples,” just means he’s eating more than one apple, without saying much more about the apples. But it doesn’t mean he’s eating every apple in the room or at the orchard.

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Zero article with plural count nouns may have generic or indefinite reference according to the predication (Source)

Frogs have long hind legs. (generic = all frogs)

He catches frogs. (indefinite = an indefinite number of frogs)

  • What's that horse eating? --The horse is eating apples. The plural without article can serve to identify the type of the thing, to identify it in general terms. The horse is not eating hay. The horse is eating apples. What is that farmer raising? Is it cows? --No, the farmer is raising pigs and chickens. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 30 '17 at 14:12
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That rule still applies to a sentence like He is eating apples. Here, it means any of that thing, in that he is eating any amount of apples. Since the plural apples is used, it sounds like he is eating two or more apples.

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