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Example 1

I can't beat those young guys.

Does this mean I can't beat even one of those young guys? Or does it mean I can't beat them as a whole but can probably take care of one or two?

Example 2

I can't fix those cars.

Does this mean I can't fix any one of them? Or maybe I can fix one or two but I just can't fix those cars as a whole?

Example 3

I don't take those school buses.

I think this one mean I don't take any one of those buses without a doubt?

So while "any one of..." structure exists, we seem to still be able to use just "those cars," etc.?

1 Answer 1

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As usual with this kind of use of plurals, the context matters and so taken out of context the sentences can be ambiguous. There's nothing remarkable here; it is easy to take sentences out of context and find them ambiguous, but placed in context, no misunderstanding arises.

For example, if you were at a chess competition, you'd understand "I can't beat those guys" to mean individually (since in chess you normally play one-on-one) but if you were at a football match, and "those guys" referred to the opposition team you'd understand it to mean "altogether", because that's how football is played.

There are simple ways of avoiding the ambiguity, eg

I can't beat any of those guys

So the problem of ambiguity rarely arises.

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