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Does the following makes sense, with "the totem pole" referring to totem poles in general?

The totem pole can be grouped into specific categories, depending on its location and the occasion for which it was carved.

Note that there are various types, or categories, of totem poles such as the welcome pole and memorial pole.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • Isn't it just a question of whether or not totem pole is a countable noun? – Mazura Feb 19 at 18:46
  • I think both of the answers are correct on their own technical merits, which is a weird thing to see for sharp disagreement. SamBC is correct insofar as the structure of the sentence works just fine grammatically (Mazura above nailed the "why" that's missing from the answer itself), but Astralbee covers the idiomatic usage better. So, in short, if it's your sentence, use Astralbee's answer, and if you're trying to understand someone else's sentence, use SamBC's answer. – Alex H. Feb 19 at 22:23
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Constructions like that can be made, using the definite article to refer to a category of things - "the horse", "the television", and yes, "the totem pole".

You would not then group such a thing "into specific categories". You might group it with other things - "the horse may be grouped with the zebra and the donkey to form the family of equids", but not group it into.

To group something is to combine it. You wish to divide or split it:

The totem pole may be divided into specific categories, depending on...

On the other hand:

Totem poles may be grouped into specific categories...

(Note that the plural example may use grouped or divided equally, depending on whether you think of it as a singular group or a group of single things)

  • +1 Yes. I'd say that using the definite article is (generally) less common than using a plural article, but there's nothing actually wrong or confusing with using a generic description. The horseshoe crab is on the edge of extinction is perfectly understandable (discounting the validity of the statement). – Jason Bassford Feb 19 at 21:03
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No it does not make sense.

A totem pole is a complete thing. You can't group one complete thing.

If you are actually speaking about multiple totem poles and mean that there are different kinds of them (which is what I think it means) you could perhaps say:

Totem poles can be grouped into specific categories, depending on their location and the occasion for which they were carved.

Or, if the intended meaning was to refer to the component parts of a totem pole (a totem pole is made of numerous stacked images of totems) and say that the individual totems fall into specific categories, you could perhaps say:

The totems on a totem pole can be grouped into specific categories, depending on their location and the occasion for which they were carved.

  • Thank you. Should "location" be changed into "locations" and "occasion" into "occasions" in "Totem poles can be grouped into specific categories, depending on their location and the occasion for which they were carved"? – Apollyon Feb 19 at 15:45
  • @Apollyon No, because each individual totem has one location and was carved for one reason, and when you are dividing them into groups you do so on the basis of their individual characteristics, so those attributes remain singular. – Astralbee Feb 19 at 15:47
  • I read the OPs statement as "The totem pole [as a concept] can be grouped..." and it sounded right to me. Would that still not make sense, if explicitly written in the sentence? – Aethenosity Feb 19 at 22:36

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