When referring to a class of things, especially countable things, I am always confused about singular noun and plural nouns. For example:

Dogs are the most lovely animal in the world.


The most lovely animal in the world is dogs.

I know both sentences are grammatical correct because verbs only need to agree with the subject. However, those sentences sound awkward because of mixing singular noun and plural nouns.

So what is the best way to refer a class of countable things?


I have been suggested that I can use "the dog" to refer all dogs. So can the + a singular countable always represent a class of things?

  • May be this is useful: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/30999/… – Maulik V Mar 12 '15 at 6:25
  • "I know both sentences are grammatical correct because verbs only need to agree with the subject." <== Er, you might want to wait for a decent answer, one that will most likely be written by a native English speaker. – F.E. Mar 12 '15 at 7:31
  • @F.E. I learned the rule of agreement among subject noun, verb, and predicate noun from quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/… which looks like a professional English grammar website. – zx_wing Mar 12 '15 at 7:45
  • @zx_wing "Grammar Girl" (Mignon Fogarty) is not a competent grammarian. She teaches a style, one that is still rooted in traditional grammar and grammatical misunderstandings. The last I can remember, I think she had a B.A. in liberal arts or something like that. – F.E. Mar 12 '15 at 7:46
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    @F.E. you are probably fifth who does not favor GrammarGirl! I must stop using that site as a concrete reference! Thanks :) – Maulik V Mar 12 '15 at 8:14

When you're using a countable noun in the plural, further references to that noun should honor the plural:

Dogs are the loveliest (not most lovely) animals in the world.

In the singular, you would say:

Dog is man's best friend. (example: http://mashable.com/2013/03/12/dog-mans-best-friend/)

The + countable nouns is tricky. You'd typically use it when talking about a specific instance of the countable noun, not in general. So "the dog" isn't appropriate, since we're not talking about a specific dog. There are some cases where you use "the", for example - the Moon, the Sun, the equator. All of these words have plurals, but of all moons and suns there are some of special significance to us, and so we use a definite article there.

  • So I can directly use a singular countable noun without any articles and determiners to represent a class of that noun? Like your example, or 'People like eating banana', 'Car is a good for long distance commute' ? – zx_wing Mar 12 '15 at 6:30
  • We can use the when referring in the singular to all members of a group. This is common in writing about a particular species: "The Asian elephant has four toes on the hind foot and five on the forefoot, while the African elephant has three on the hind foot and five on the forefoot." – pyobum Mar 12 '15 at 7:26
  • @pyobum yes, there are valid cases where you can use "the", but beginning learners from many different language backgrounds tend to overuse it, and it's a mistake that's hard to correct later on. I'd rather they discover uses of "the" slowly over the course of time, and err on the side of not using it liberally everywhere. – RuslanD Mar 12 '15 at 8:19
  • @zx_wing I would say "Cars are good for long distance commute". In singular, I would say "A car is good for long-distance commute". As you can probably tell, there are situations where you'd use a/an, the, or nothing with a singular countable noun. It's not a simple explanation and I was trying to stay away from it. If you'd like, I can look for more complete rules around this. – RuslanD Mar 12 '15 at 8:21
  • I would say that native speakers do not in fact say things like "Cars are good for long distance commute". They would always use commuting in such constructions. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 12 '15 at 14:40

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