29

The following is a problem from my textbook.

The following sentence has an error. Find it and correct it.

(1)[Most people] in the country (2)[would like] to own (3)[their house] (4)[some day].

It seems to me that there is no error in the sentence. Could anyone help me?

  • 7
    What textbook is that? – laugh Apr 3 '16 at 20:31
  • 4
    What are some other problems from the same section? Better yet, what is the title of the section that contains this problem? – Greg Bacon Apr 4 '16 at 1:59
  • @laugh, it is a text book written and used in a private school in Japan. – Aki Apr 4 '16 at 10:30
  • 1
    @GregBacon, it seems the section consists of problems about nouns. – Aki Apr 4 '16 at 10:31
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    @ToddW - I thought for sure it was (4), but, if this problem is in a section about nouns, then I'm inclined to agree with you: that would point to (3). If only these dratted textbooks came with answer keys! – J.R. Apr 4 '16 at 16:59

10 Answers 10

26

It's a bit pedantic (many if not most native speakers would cheerfully ignore this point), but from Grammar for Dummies...

to be a star some day is incorrect ... some day as two words refers to a particular day (Tuesday, for example) that isn't named. As a single word, someday means “at an unspecified time.”

  • 8
    @Damkerng T.: I think it's fair to say the X for Dummies series is essentially American - but obviously the current owner (Wiley) are a global company with offices in London as well as NY, etc. As for the orthographic convention, the single-word form is barely a century old, and it only became dominant in AmE in the 70s (BrE a couple of decades later). To my mind that makes it "latter-day pedantry". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 3 '16 at 15:44
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    @J.R.♦: I don't know how many of "all those folks" are actually native speakers (or perhaps I should say native writers). But the fact that so many of them completely ignored the actual error (finding instead completely spurious points to quibble over) probably does stand as supporting evidence for my claim that many of us cheerfully ignore this somewhat arbitrary distinction between the one- and two-word forms. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 3 '16 at 16:09
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    @FumbleFingers - One reason this error seems so "trivial" is because you can't hear it – you can only read it. (Some day and someday are homophones.) I don't think it hurts learners (or native speakers, for that matter!) to learn about nuances like this. – J.R. Apr 3 '16 at 16:26
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    Acording to OED, "some day" can also mean "on an unspecified day in the future", and examples of usage show that it is synonymous with "someday". – laugh Apr 3 '16 at 17:07
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    From "We'll Meet Again" comes the quote "some sunny day". You can't say "sunny someday [sic]".They're really three separate words, with some meaning unspecified. – MSalters Apr 5 '16 at 13:15
20

Since some day is not an error (see below) , there is no actual error in the sentence

(1)[Most people] in the country (2)[would like] to own (3)[their house] (4)[some day].

When I first read the sentence, I thought the sentence would be much better with the adjective own before house in (3):

Most people in the country would like to own their own house some day

(as opposed to renting a house or just dreaming about owning a house). Note that user SevenSidedDie has aptly pointed out a reading that did not occur to me and which makes my objection largely based on a certain interpretation of the sentence. And this depends on how one uses or defines the verb own. In the USA, people are considered homeowners when they take out a loan on a house and repay the loan over a period of time, say 15 or 30 years. But there is a sense in which people do not really own their home until they have fully repaid the loan. Therefore my objection to (3) was based only on one reading of the sentence.


As to the idea that house should be plural because we are talking about more than one house (that is, the 'most people' in this sentence do not live in a single house), this objection is answered by the fact that we can name an item in the singular even when we are talking about many of them. We can do this when we want to emphasize that everyone actually had one of the stated items, as in

Most students brought their lunch (not lunches) to school because they did not like the food in the school cafeteria.

and

Most people wash their car (not cars) when it is sunny outside.

You can use lunches and cars but you don't have to.

and

Most students brought their backpack (not backpacks) to school and set it down in front of them.


Note also that 'in the country' is ambiguous, and this can also affect one's interpretation of the sentence. Country can mean both nation and countryside/rural area. Without context, the sentence could be referring to 'most people in the nation' or 'most people in the countryside'.
As for the popular answer and much discussed issue regarding someday versus some day, when I read the sentence the first time, I did not notice any "error" regarding some day. This is because there isn't one.

Some speakers and/or websites may wish to insist that one should use someday rather than some day when talking about "some unknown day in the future."

However, there is plenty of support for using some day with this meaning.

First and foremost is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which defines both one day and some day as

On an unspecified day in the future

and then gives example sentences from the past 500+ years. I will quote sentences from only the past 200 to 300 years.

Since it is important to realize that both one day and some day have the same meaning in this context, here are four sentences from the OED with one day:

1738 Swift Compl. Coll. Genteel Conversat. 57 I'll make you one Day sup Sorrow for this.

1872 J. Morley Voltaire i. 2 A gracious, benevolent, and all-powerful being, who would one day redress all wrongs and recompense all pain.

1945 T. Williams 27 Wagons Cotton 217 One day I will look in the mirror and I will see that my hair is beginning to turn grey.

2001 M. Ravenhill Mother Clap's Molly House ii. viii. 85, One day I'm just gonna up and go.

Here are four sentences from the OED with some day:

1796 F. Burney Camilla IV. vii. xiii. 196 There's no keeping him. I may be tempted else to knock his brains out some day.

1853 E. Bulwer-Lytton My Novel III. ix. xvii. 95, I hope to return some day what you then so generously pressed upon me.

1953 D. Whipple Someone at Distance xx. 176 ‘Some day’, she said to herself, ‘I shall be in a position where these little people will not dare to disrespect me.’

2002 Chicago Tribune 8 Apr. i. 2/5 He'll do just fine. The kid might even make federal judge some day.

Basically, one day and some day are interchangeable when they refer to an unknown future day. There is no valid rule based on actual usage that says one must use someday in this context. The Free Dictionary redirects a search for 'some day' to 'one day' but then says they are synonyms:

one day also some day

in the future I'd like to go to Mexico one day.

(link)

In addition, Collins dictionary online makes no distinction between 'some day' and 'someday' other than that there are two spellings:

some day or someday

at a date in the future that is unknown or that has not yet been decided
⇒ He said he wants to be a supervisor some day.
⇒ He took her left hand, hoping that it would someday bear a gold ring on the third finger.
⇒ I hope someday we'll have enough money to retire.
⇒ Some day I'll be a pilot.

There is no "governing board" of English. It is the speakers of English who determine usage and 'correct usage'. For 500 years or more, English speakers have been using both one day and some day to refer to some unknown day in the future. Folks who insist that it must be someday are making up a rule, or perhaps passing on an invalid rule that someone taught them.

Thus, there is no actual error in the original sentence, as you have given it, with no context and without our knowing what the textbook might be trying to demonstrate with the sentence.

  • 5
    In the UK: "I own my home" - even with a huge mortgage. "I own my home outright" - the mortgage is paid. – gnasher729 Apr 4 '16 at 10:04
  • 1
    a TLDR; sentence with the answer would be helpful! – Joze Apr 5 '16 at 8:27
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    @Joze The first sentence: "Since some day is not an error (see below) , there is no actual error in the sentence" – DCShannon Apr 5 '16 at 16:46
10

The sentence’s meaning is clear and therefore completely fine for informal conversational English.

Were I to pick nits, I would say the error is in (3): number agreement. The subject Most people and the possessive their are plural in number, but house is singular. No member of this majority wishes to own one single house collectively with all the rest. Rather, they would all like to own their own respective houses.

Attempt to edit the sentence for correctness and you will quickly see awkward, ambiguous constructions.

Most people in the country would like to own their houses some day.

Note the plural houses above. To my native ear, this is less clear than the original from the exercise in your textbook.

Most people in the country would like to own houses some day.

Removing the possessive their does sound more natural, but now it is unclear whether a member of the majority wants to own one or multiple houses—even though a native speaker would understand from context that the original means one house for each, or at least one per family.

Most people in the country would like to own their own houses some day.
Most people in the country would like to own their own respective houses some day.

Emphasizing with own their own that each family has an abode to themselves is one possibility. Using own their own respective is precise and should satisfy pedants, but at the cost of being tediously wordy and overly formal.


When you find yourself struggling with number agreement in English, see if you can reword the sentence to be both clear and concise.

Note that I was careful above to avoid possessives for individual members of the majority because it almost certainly includes men and women. Does each want to own his own home or own her own home? Typical of our sloppiness with number agreement, singular they, as in

Each member of the majority wants to own their own home.

would also be understandable. Although it is now considered old-fashioned, prescriptivist, and even sexist, formal English thirty years ago or more would have rendered it as

Each member of the majority wants to own his own home.

Note the use of his to convey possessive of someone with unknown gender. Maintaining number agreement but also being inclusive forces the more wordy

Each member of the majority wants to own his or her own home.

My suggestion would be to sidestep all of this fussiness with

Most people in the country would like to be homeowners some day.


Although I can be pedantic about language, I reject the quibbling over an allegedly meaningful distinction between some day and someday. This is an area where English spelling is fluid. The progression usually starts out with separate words (e.g., data base), then hyphenated (data-base), and finally as a single word (database). For an example even further back, today both to-day and to day are anachronistic.

Finally, I find this example to be a poor choice of exercise on the part of your textbook’s author. As answers to this question note, native speakers are having to look hard for the error and are embarrassed at the exceedingly minor issues we raise. On the other hand, for advanced students of English, thinking through the subtleties of the different possible wordings shows solid command of the language.

By chance is the correct answer in the back of the textbook? Is the author concerned about separating the adverb? If so

Most people in the country would like to some day own their house.

Knowing the topic of this exercise’s section in the textbook may also hint at the intended answer.

  • 3
    Hi Greg. Yeah, I think we're all trying to come up with any possible "disturbance in the sentence". I will just note that we do use a singular noun when we wish to emphasize or otherwise refer to the fact that each plural person (people) has one of that noun, be it house, hand, head. 'Students, draw me a picture of your family (not families) and then raise your hand (not hands) when you're done.' – Alan Carmack Apr 4 '16 at 2:20
  • The textbook was written and is used in a private school in Japan. It seems the section from which I took this problem consists of problems about nouns. I'm not a student of the school, so I don't have the access to the answers. – Aki Apr 4 '16 at 10:54
  • 'The students brought their lunch (not lunches) to school because the food at the school cafeteria was terrible.' 'Most students drew a picture of their house'. – Alan Carmack Apr 4 '16 at 15:02
  • @AlanCarmack My parents and I (American English speakers) would universally say "The students brought their lunches to school..." I'm not saying that makes anything right or wrong, just that I do feel like some people do pay attention to number agreement in these situations. – Todd Wilcox Apr 4 '16 at 16:44
5

I contend that there is nothing wrong with the grammar here. The textbook might try to exercise some invented rule (see the discussion about "some day" vs. "someday"), but the sentence is correct and clear as it is. This is a very good question to stir a discussion, but as a textbook exercise it seems inadequate.

A logic purist might argue that point the sentence is badly formed because of number disagreement: "their house" refers to a specific house, so a non-human reader (e.g., a simple text-parsing software algorithm) might interpret the sentence as if "most people in the country" live in a specific house. This interpretation is counter-intuitive for human readers who apply some knowledge about "people", "house", and "country". The typical reader will read this sentence without thinking about any ambiguity, so I wouldn't say it's incorrect.

I originally thought that changing "their house" to "their houses" would be an improvement, but that brings out another logic-purist ambiguity, in how many houses each member of "people" may have (although a human reader will probably have no concern).

  • Are you saying we can't use "their" in the future tense? And "their own houses" sounds like people want to own more than one house. – J.R. Apr 3 '16 at 17:37
  • No, I'm not saying "their" can't be used in the future. I don't see how my answer can be interpreted this way. – laugh Apr 3 '16 at 20:19
  • I edited the answer since I believe the sentence isn't wrong. Number disagreement exists but is not a concern. My previous answer included suggested rewordings but they aren't better than the original. I wonder what the negative voters were concerned about. – laugh Apr 4 '16 at 4:46
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    Number agreement over quantifiers is a complicated topic, but this sentence seems to me to do it right, i.e. the standard way English does it. A “logic purist” who would quibble over this would have to be someone who cared more about how languages ought to work than about how they actually do work. – PLL Apr 5 '16 at 14:57
  • If neither house nor houses introduces unresolveable ambiguity into the sentence, why is the actually correct houses not preferable? – pydsigner Apr 5 '16 at 16:25
4

Possibly either "their home" or "a house" and not "their house".

"Their house" is only correct if they already own it. If they don't own it, it's not "their house". "Their home" would be correct, because even a rented home is your home.

On the other hand, this is desperately looking for mistakes. The sentence is completely understandable and no native speaker will correct you if you say it.

If you look at all the answers here, some contradicting each other, it seems to be an awful question for a textbook. And as in many other cases, you can't just say "this sentence is incorrect". You'd have to say "This is what the sentence is supposed to express. Does it express that? "

  • 2
    @J.R. that's not the same thing, and this answer is just as correct as the other one. – shadowtalker Apr 3 '16 at 20:25
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    @ssdecontrol Why is it not the same thing? It shows that "their" does not necessarily mean possession. Would you really think that "Their apartment was small" requires the people to own the apartment instead of just living in it? Because that's contrary to common usage everywhere. – Voo Apr 3 '16 at 20:49
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    @J.R. Note the distinction that I made between "their house" and "their home". Your house is yours only if you own it. Your home is your home whether you own it, rent it, or whether you live with friends who make you welcome. Your city is your city if you live there. – gnasher729 Apr 4 '16 at 10:03
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    @J.R. I see what you're saying but I think gnasher is right here. It should be 'own their home' or 'own a house' to be precise, even though someone would understand either. I agree it's not a good question for a textbook. – ColleenV parted ways Apr 4 '16 at 13:36
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    @gnasher729 - I don't think that possessive nouns and pronouns need to indicate "ownership." Consider: We played poker at Joe's house. I wouldn't change that sentence if Joe was renting instead of paying a mortgage. – J.R. Apr 4 '16 at 16:47
3

I would say the error is in (3). I would write the sentence to say,

Most people in the country would like to own their own house some day.

I guess the phrase "their house" could be construed to be unclear, denoting ownership already and "their own" is usually said so that we know this isn't the case. Still, "their house" could be argued also to simply mean "the house they live in", so I don't think the error is a grammatical one necessarily, but rather one of perceived clarity, and I say "perceived clarity", because I think the sentence, as it stands, is defensible. After all, we are happy to say, "I am going to Roy's house." without understanding that to be an assertion that Roy necessarily owns it in the financial sense, but only that Roy lives there.

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    I don't think you've improved this sentence by adding an extra own. Worse yet, you've left the error in the sentence. See the answer by FumbleFingers to see where the error is. – J.R. Apr 3 '16 at 16:23
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    @J.R. actually I do think this improves the sentence more than the "correct" answer does. I don't give a flip about "someday", and there are strong arguments that there's nothing wrong about it to begin with, but to me the original phrasing implies that most people already have a house that they don't own, and that they'd like to achieve ownership of that particular house, which is silly. Sure, I can get past that and read the intended meaning, but it takes a bit of effort. With "their" replaced by "their own" or "a", the intended meaning is immediately present. – hobbs Apr 3 '16 at 22:41
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    @hobbs In some places most people don't own their house. Generally the owner in practice is the bank. Most people would like to own their house outright someday, rather than having the bank own it in all but title. There's no possible way for “would like to own their house” to be ungrammatical — at worst it could be untrue or inapplicable. Here in the land of ridiculous real estate and 30 year mortgages, this usage of “their house”, which is not owned by them, appears in news articles about the housing crunch all the time. – SevenSidedDie Apr 4 '16 at 0:43
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    @SevenSidedDie You're making a distinction between own and outright own, which I don't think the textbook, given its bare context, is making. – Alan Carmack Apr 4 '16 at 1:16
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    You actually do legally own your home, even if you have a mortgage. The bank may be able to force you to sell your home if you don't pay the mortgage, but it is legally your home. – gnasher729 Apr 4 '16 at 19:10
0

The error is in the third spot.

"Owning your house some day" would imply that people wanted to own the house in their possession someday.

The correct sentence would be:

Most people in the country would like to own a house some day.


Another thing I noticed was that the sentence separates the words some and day, instead of the correct someday. Try searching some day on Google; it will ask if you meant someday.

Google is correcting you

The more correct sentence would be:

Most people in the country would like to own a house someday.

  • 2
    Um... no. Most people who don't currently own houses rent them or live in apartments... and those houses/apartments aren't usually available for purchase. It would certainly be an option to say "Most people in the country would like to own a house someday"... but not "their house someday". – Catija Apr 4 '16 at 22:06
  • @Catija, I accidentally put the original sentence instead of the correct one. – haykam Apr 4 '16 at 22:08
  • Ah. Fair enough :D I've done that before. This is a much simpler answer than any of the others. – Catija Apr 4 '16 at 22:10
-1

I think Part 3 is problematic and here's my reasons:

  1. The sentence tries to emphasise on the individual ownership rather than the shared form. So it best serves its purpose by adding 'own' at the end. Also their houses alone can be ambiguious and brought up the question who does their refer to? since it's a single sentence. I'd go with

Most people ... their own houses

Or

Most people ...the houses of their own.

However, this is probably not the point of this question since this is generally ignored in everyday language unless this is acually the point of the grammar lesson.

  1. I think the problem lies at house part . Why should it be singular (or noncount) while you refer to the peoples' houses?

I'm quoting this from Longman Common Mistakes in English,

Don't say: Many people lost their life at sea.

Say: Many people lost their lives at sea.

Lives refers to more than one person.

By the same analogy, why not houses and why house?!

Besides, you can find this example in LDOCE,

Many more people now own their own homes.

Although home is both count and noncount, house is just a count noun at least in the sense that we need to use it in the OP's sentence which includes their. I think this sentence is grammatically wrong.

Most people in the country would like to own their own house.

As I mentioned their refers to people's houses, and their makes us use houses and not house. So I think the right sentence would be

Most people in the country would like to own their own houses.

  1. Since most comments deal with this point that someday and not some day is correct here, I would like to quote something from Oxford American Dictionary for learners of English, in which one day and some day are considered to be synonymous and mean

at some time in the future:

Some day we'll go back and see all our old friends.

I think choosing someday rather than some day is subject to a writer's preference then.

-2

I think the only error, if you can call it that, lies in the lexical ambiguity associated with the word country, the term 'country' referring either to country (as opposed to 'town'), or country as in a state or nation. (Do people who live in towns also hope to own their own house some day?)

  • keshlam already proposed this answer, half a day before you. – choster Apr 4 '16 at 13:38
  • 2
    Ambiguities are not errors. – J.R. Apr 4 '16 at 15:18
-3

There's also an ambiguity; it isn't clear whether "in the country" means "in the country that we have been discussing" or "outside cities". That bothers me more than the other concerns folks have raised.

  • 2
    The textbook is designed to help learners spot grammatical mistakes, not write a standalone sentence free from ambiguity. – J.R. Apr 3 '16 at 17:33

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