9

I know and have used this phrase many times.

I'll watch some TV

But when I told this to my daughter, she asked a question that confused me a bit. Her concern was how this phrase is different from the below one?

I'll watch some movie

She asked if I had said, "I'll watch some program on TV" could have made more sense.

How do I make her understand the use of some + noun in the same context where both the sentences mean different!


Furthermore, can you come up with some examples of some + noun as in some TV here? The noun should not mean 'any'.

  • 1
    @StoneyB yes, the more I teach that 9-yr-old, the more she makes me confused. :) Thanks. – Maulik V Oct 11 '14 at 11:56
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    That's what children are for: to teach us our limitations. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 11 '14 at 12:00
13

I'll watch some movie.
okI'll watch some TV.

The difference in acceptability of these two statements turns on the fact that (at least in the US) different sorts of activity are involved.

When we watch a movie, we ordinarily watch the entire movie. If we're watching it at home we may interrupt the viewing from time to time to fetch snacks or go to the bathroom, but unless the movie turns out to be boring or disgusting we usually consume it as a complete story, from beginning to end. In effect, movie is a count noun, and watching a movie is an 'accomplishment', a telic action with a marked endpoint; so (at least in US idiom) it sounds odd to speak of watching some movie.

But when we (in the US) watch television, there is often no intention of watching a specific program. Watching TV tends to be a time-filler, a 'browse': particularly since the proliferation of cable/satellite channels into hundreds, we often turn the TV on to see what might be interesting, and we watch until we are satiated or bored or have to do something else. In such a context, television is a mass noun "with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit" (Wikipedia), and we may very well speak of watching some TV. It means we will watch TV for some time, for an indefinite while.

Note, by the way, that neither the awkward watch some movie or the acceptable watch some TV employs some in the sense which it has in many non-'Anglo' Englishes, as a indefinite determinative alternative to a/an—the sense which appears to be in play in your daughter's followup suggestion of I'll watch some program on TV.

This use is very uncommon in AmE, and I believe in BrE as well. Both colloquially and formally, some is employed in this sense only to mark its head as "definitely indefinite". For instance: If I tell you There's a guy here to see you, you may ask me Who?; but if I tell you There's some guy here to see you, you will not ask, because my use of some tells you that I don't know who he is—he's just some (unknown) guy. In the same way, if my son tells me that he watched some movie in his history class today I can be pretty sure that he did not pay very close attention and will not have anything interesting to say about it.

  • 3
    As always, good one sir. +1 especially for the last paragraph. – Maulik V Oct 11 '14 at 12:03
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    This is why I love ell.SE. I learn things even as a native English speaker. – gla3dr Oct 11 '14 at 17:42
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    @gla3dr Me, too. I only learn these things because the questions make me figure them out. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 11 '14 at 17:53
5

In this example TV is functioning as an uncountable noun which can refer to one or more programmes, or perhaps to less than one programme if you don't watch for very long, or even to bits of several programmes if you channel surf.

For a couple of similar examples how about:

I'll listen to some music

which may well actually involve listening to a number of songs or pieces of music.

Also

I'm going to eat some food

Here the quantity and types of food are not specified.

As to why there isn't an equivalent way of talking about movies (or for another media-based example books) I think StoneyB has covered that excellently - such a phrase simply wouldn't be useful, and the development of English (as with most other languages) is primarily driven by utility. We develop words and phrases to express the things we want and need to express - if enough people don't need a way to express a particular thing then there won't be an accepted way to express it.

-1

Your daughter has a fine ear for the english language.

"TV" means "television." While some people use the word "television" as a shorthand for "television programming," that is not what "television" actually means.

If I am going to watch "some television," that means that I am going to watch something on one of multiple television sets. It is similar to saying that I am going to eat "some food" means that I am going to eat one or more of a multiple variety of foods.

It seems to me that your daughter is absolutely correct to ask why you don't say that you are going to watch "some program on television" or "some television program."

  • If enough "some people" use a word a certain way, that is what that word actually means. And the use of shorthand is surely one of the easiest ways for new usages to develop. – Nathan Tuggy Nov 10 '17 at 4:59

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