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I'm trying to learn grammar from an IETLS book, In one of the fill in the blank type question, there is one question such as :

Bananas grow in _______.

The answers page says that the correct answer is Bananas grow in tropical climates. The word a is incorrect before a plural noun.

But what I'm wondering about is, why did they choose the word climates? Can I use climate instead and use an 'a' in front of the tropical? Or is tropical always used together with the word climates?

EDIT Maybe I should give more context to the question. This is an example question which required the reader to correct the wrong sample provided. The provided answer is Bananas grow in 'in a tropical climates', and the answer page say the correct answer is:

Bananas grow in tropical climates. It isn't necessary to repeat the word in. The word a is incorrect before a plural noun. The word tropical is misspelled.

What makes me wonder is why did they choose climates? Isn't a tropical climate also right?

  • So... We're both options and you are confused about why one is better than the other or are you asking why your suggestion wasn't included? – Catija Dec 9 '15 at 19:06
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    You can say "a tropical climate", it just doesn't make sense here. It would be fine to say something like "This banana was grown in a tropical climate." – Era Dec 9 '15 at 19:11
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It is legitimate and grammatical to say

Bananas grow in a tropical climate.

Consider

Bananas grow in a tropical climate as opposed to a desert climate.

A sentence with an analogous structure is

Struggling teens grow better in a protected environment.

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    I agree with this. The answer key provides a correction to the sentence, not the only possible correction to the sentence. – J.R. Dec 10 '15 at 15:46
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"Bananas grow in a tropical climate." is also correct.

It seems to answer the question, "What types of things grow in a tropical climate?"

Whereas "Bananas grow in tropical climates." seems to answer the question "Where will bananas grow?"

Really it's a poorly written exam question.

2

If I'm not mistaken, there are many types of tropical climates. Yes, a tropical climate cannot be anything else. However, it varies geographically. We have a Sub-continental tropical climate (South-east Asia), or the South American Tropical climate, or the Caribbean tropical climate (just a few among many more). Bananas can grow in any of these places (if not, more). Maybe that's why 'a tropical climate' is not used.

1

As the word "climate" in your example means

A region with a particular climate

it is often used in the plural

Because chili peppers thrive in very warm, hot climates, equatorial regions seem to have the heaviest concentration of pungent cuisine. He had grown up in a hot climate.

You can use a +adjective +climate as well. Oxforddictionaries.com.

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Having read the first four answers, I'll try to describe my understanding of this issue (I'm not a native speaker of English, and Russians tend to make many article usage errors, that's why this question interested me).


Imagine that you have opened a plant encyclopedia at a random page. At the top of the page, you see "Banana": the title of a long article. Then you ask your friend to read a random sentence from that article. He reads:

Bananas grow in tropical climates.

Can you guess from what part of the article this sentence is? It is most likely from the very start of the article. It's part of the basic description of bananas.

To understand fully the meaning of this sentence, you don't need to ask your friend to read a sentence preceding it, or a sentence following it. It's a very "self-contained" sentence. It conveys a generic fact.

We have a class of fruit called "bananas". Not some specific bananas, but generic bananas; an undifferentiated whole called "bananas". We have a class of climates called "tropical climates". Not some specific climates but just "tropical climates" as an undifferentiated whole.


Next, you ask your friend to read another random sentence. He reads:

Bananas grow in a tropical climate.

Now it's more likely that this sentence is not from the introductory part of the article. You feel that in order to understand the meaning of this sentence, you'd need to ask your friend to read the preceding sentence, and probably the following sentence.

He reads the sentences surrounding this sentence, and it becomes clearer:

[...] Studies have shown, however, that this technique works best when the fruit grows well in a subtropical climate. Bananas grow in a tropical climate. Not in any other. Our geneticists will need an additional decade to adapt this technique", said Dr. Moghaddam.

This sentence is not so "self-contained". You needed to read additional sentences to work out its meaning. There is a contrast between a subtropical climate and a tropical climate. Furthermore, it's a quote from speech, and sentences are 'broken apart'. Had it been a written communication, Dr. Moghaddam would've wrote:

Bananas will grow in a tropical climate, but not in any other.

Thus, the sentence with a tropical climate does not work well as a standalone sentence relaying some generic fact. This is even more evident in Ed Rutmayer's answer, where the sentence serves as a reply to a question:

-"What types of things grow in a tropical climate?"
-"Bananas"
-"What?"
-"Bananas grow in a tropical climate". (the answering person here stresses the word bananas using intonation (prosody))

We can construe another question:

-"What bananas do a tropical climate?"
-"Bananas grow in a tropical climate." (Here, the stress in speech falls on grow)

Thus, while the sentence with a tropical climate is not ungrammatical, it does not fit well as a "self-contained" sentence in the way the sentence with tropical climates does. The sentence with tropical climates is "more generic".


Why is it so? In my opinion, the key linguistic term to google about is "generic noun phrase". From the linguistic standpoint, we can form a generic noun phrase in several ways:

The tropical climate is the best climate for these plants. (Not some specific climate: a generic "tropical climate"; we use the definite article the)
A tropical climate is better than an arctic climate. (Not some specific tropical climate: any representative member of the class 'tropical climate'; we use the indefinite article a)
Tropical climates have been studied a lot over the last 100 years.

The problem is that there are slight differences in meaning between a 'indefinite generic' noun phrase, a 'definite generic' one, and a 'plural generic'. According to Quirk et al. (1985),

  • The generic use of a picks out ANY REPRESENTATIVE MEMBER OF THE CLASS. (from Unit 5.53)
  • The generic use of the zero article with both plural nouns and noncount nouns identifies the class considered as an UNDIFFERENTIATED WHOLE. (from Unit 5.54)
  • The is rather limited in its generic function. With singular heads, it is often formal or literary in tone, indicating THE CLASS AS REPRESENTED BY ITS TYPICAL SPECIMEN (from Unit 5.55)

Furthermore, the authors of the book write (Unit 5.52) that then the noun phrase is not the subject in a clause, it could lose its generic function. They provide an example in which the 'definite generic' retains its generic nature, the 'plural generic' is somewhat changed in meaning, and the 'indefinite generic' loses its generic function.

Nora has been studying the medieval history play. ("mystery plays as a genre"; generic meaning)
Nora has been studying a medieval history play. (one specific play; the meaning is non-generic)
Nora has been studying medieval history plays. ("most likely refers to a subset of plays")

Furthermore, other parts of the sentence, such as verbs, play a role in determining whether a noun phrase is generic and what shades of 'generic meaning' it has. There's a 55-page PDF titled "Generic Noun Phrases" written by Jown Lawler that shows just how complex this issue is.

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    I. Demand. A. TL;DR! – M.A.R. Dec 10 '15 at 15:47
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    I won't downvote this, but it seems like you're overanalyzing it. I have no problem with Bananas grow in a warm climate anywhere in an article; that's just a normal way of using the word climate. Other examples (from books): Most viniferas grow best in a Mediterranean-type of climate with long, relatively dry summers and mild winters; “Cool-season” cereals (wheat, rye, barley, and oats) grow best in a moderate climate; These trees grow in a temperate climate; Several orchids which usually grow in a warmer climate will also thrive in the warmer parts of the intermediate orchid house. – J.R. Dec 10 '15 at 15:56
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    A mild climate is a mild climate; I don't read too much into the indefinite article there. Snowmen don't like a tropical climate doesn't seem any more unusual than, say, Yesterday was a rainy day. But I wouldn't delete this answer. I may not agree with it 100%, but there are some interesting kernels to think about. – J.R. Dec 10 '15 at 18:27
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    "A snowman is..." makes a better start to an entry than "The snowman is..." (because indef generics work great as definitional statements). But "The snowman is..." would not be ungrammatical. It's also true that "Snowmen are widespread in a cold climate" probably works better with a plural generic NP: in cold climates. But the indef generic NP is not ungrammatical. At worst, it is unfortunate. So your remark about the OP's sentence not being ungrammatical, per se is misplaced. Then the third sentence, "there are different methods..." is fine, for the same reason the first one is. – user20792 Dec 10 '15 at 23:19
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    I think this is nearly correct. This is my understanding: "bananas grow in tropical climates". This is a fact about our bananas and tropical climates on planet earth, in reality. "bananas grow in a tropical climate" this is a fact about tropical climates in the abstract. It's somewhat hypothetical. The latter sentence pairs well with modals like "can" and "will". – Senjougahara Hitagi Dec 11 '15 at 1:56

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