0

I heard something from the room, but I entered the room, just birds were singing.

In this case, can I say "people weren't singing" even though people didn't exist?

Does "people weren't singing" imply the existence of people?

ChatGPT
Yes, the phrase "people weren't singing" implies the existence of people, as it references their absence or lack of engagement in singing.

I searched from GPT, but it said "people weren't singing" implies the existence of people. But in my language, "people weren't singing" is possible even if people didn't exist.

14
  • 4
    Can you say Unicorns don't exist in your language? Or Dinosaurs aren't roaming the Earth today? These are normal constructions in English. You must be trying to make some inappropriate translation, I think. You shouldn't waste your time asking chatgpt about things like this, though. It has a strong tendency to agree with whatever you "think" might be true (which it will often infer by the way you phrase your question). Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 11:53
  • 1
    Not sure what you mean by "doesn't have truth-value". The statement is "nonsensical" because syntactically speaking, "the king of France" refers to a specific person. But no such person exists. The statement A king of France isn't ruling the country is syntactically valid (it's still not true, and it's a daft thing to say, but at least it's not inherently invalid). Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 12:20
  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because it is asking us to proofread an AI bot. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 12:40
  • 4
    People weren't singing, birds were. But this is not a question about English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 14:26
  • 2
    @MichaelHarvey the chat bot output was the OP's prior research, not really part of the question itself. (I don't personally think that's a good way to research, but the question includes a real question and the asker's explanation.)
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 14:26

2 Answers 2

3

No, in the context you've provided, "People weren't singing" is not idiomatic. It is a grammatical utterance, true, but its meaning, in the circumstances you have sketched out, is indeterminate. The meaning of an utterance is contextual.

The core problem in your context is that you're thinking to yourself and talking to yourself.

One could express the fact idiomatically in a number of ways. Here's one:

It wasn't people singing after all. It was birds.

2
  • 1
    "People weren't singing -- birds were." I don't think there's necessarily anything un-idiomatic about OP's phrasing if it were to be used in this context. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 5:28
  • 1
    @QuackE.Duck But that's not what OP said. I would accept your version but it would require intonation, just as you have indicated. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 12:12
4

This is contextually dependent. You can't tell from the statement alone if there were any people present.

For example, Lewis Carroll plays with this in his poem when he writes

No birds were flying overhead —
  There were no birds to fly.

English has a system of articles that can help. If you say "The people weren't singing." Then you expect your listener to know which people you are talking about.

It doesn't mean that the people still existed at the time you speak (they could be dead, for example). And it is natural to say "The ice melted", even though it isn't ice after it has melted.

Context is critical. What would are you trying to communicate? You don't just say "People weren't singing" without any context. It must be part of a narrative or a description.

Carrol's poem works as a joke because it plays with our expectations. We expect the second line to explain why the birds weren't flying (has something stopped the birds from flying? It seems sinister) but then Carroll gives the most trivial of reasons.

1
  • 1
    "Yesterday, upon the stair // I met a man who wasn't there // He wasn't there again today // I wish that man would go away!"
    – The Photon
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 16:46

You must log in to answer this question.