2

When speaking about general statements, should all nouns be in their plural forms?

Cockroaches are disgusting.

Dogs cannot eat chocolate.

And for the objects, should they be in their plural forms as well?

Horses like apples.

Humans like playing sports.

Americans love playing hockeys.

Hockey is a kind of sport but it is not a name, is it? As its first letter is in small letter.

  • 3
    It took me a while to realize that you seem to try to generalize the sentence pattern of a general fact of a thing. Though your pattern is valid (apart from playing hockeys, which should have been playing hockey), it's not the only possible pattern. For example, Water is important (water is uncountable); The tiger hunts by night and preys on a variety of animals, including deer, wild hog, and peafowl (a fact about the whole species). – Damkerng T. Mar 18 '16 at 9:48
  • Is "the dog does not eat chocolate" a correct sentense? – Ook Mar 18 '16 at 10:00
  • I wouldn't think so, factually and grammatically, but YMMV. – Damkerng T. Mar 18 '16 at 10:04
  • 2
    "The dog does not eat chocolate." is grammatically correct. More likely, however, you would say "The dog should not eat chocolate." or "Do not feed chocolate to my dog." – RockPaperLizard Mar 18 '16 at 10:23
  • 1
    @Ook YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary. A standard disclaimer on American car ads when stating what the milage for a car is. It has the meaning, this is not an absolute and conditions will cause changes to the outcome. – Peter Mar 19 '16 at 1:38
1

You use the indefinite article "a" when you are talking about one of something, but not a "specific" one: you use the definite article "the" when talking about a specific one.

To make a general statement about a countable noun, you therefore use either the plural or the indefinite article "a".

Cockroaches are disgusting

A cockroach is disgusting

The plural is the best choice in most circumstances: you might use the indefinite article if, while making a general statement, you are thinking about just one of the subject:

A car can be very expensive to run (I only want one car)

A cat is a better pet than a dog (I only want one pet)

It is possible to use the, but only if you sneak an indefinite article later. This usage is uncommon:

The cockroach is a disgusting creature

For uncountables, no plural is possible and you do not use an article either

poverty is disgusting

The object follows the normal rules, depending on how many of the object one individual subject likes/loves/needs. Remember that hockey is uncountable...

A man needs a maid -- Neil Young song title

Men need a hobby

Horses like apples

Americans love playing hockey

  • 1
    The best work I've read on the topic is "Generic Noun Phrases" by John Lawler (who is an active contributor at StackExchange, by the way). – CowperKettle Mar 23 '16 at 18:10
  • 1
    @CowperKettle: Nice document: thanks. That's my bedtime reading sorted, then. – JavaLatte Mar 23 '16 at 18:14
  • The cockroach is disgusting refers to the prototypical cockroach. Have you actually read the piece by Lawler yet? And again, the indefinite article can refer to specific referents. A/an is the indefinite article not the 'inspecific' article. – Alan Carmack Jul 26 '16 at 14:37
2

You can use either the plural form of a countable noun or the definite article "the" with the singular form of a countable noun to make a general statement about all things of a particular type. For examples:

Cockroaches are ..... or The cockroach is ......

Horses like apples ...or The horse likes apples.

Americans like ... or the American likes ....

Humans like .... or human likes ...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.