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    #1

    Smile Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Hello. Can we enumerate entities belonging to different semantic categories together? For example:
    1.The police seized 50 grenades and firearms;
    2.We saw 9 monks and children in the temple;
    3.There were 200 soldiers and horses on the hillside;
    4.The police seized 20 guns and knives.
    No.3 might be a little bit problematic.
    Many thanks.

  1. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Diamondsmith View Post
    Hello. Can we enumerate entities belonging to different semantic categories together? For example:
    1.The police seized 50 grenades and firearms;
    2.We saw 9 monks and children in the temple;
    3.There were 200 soldiers and horses on the hillside;
    4.The police seized 20 guns and knives.
    No.3 might be a little bit problematic.
    Many thanks.
    No, they are not acceptable like that. If you don't want to, or can't, specify how many firearms, children, horses and knives there were, you could write "some" or "a number of".
    Last edited by bhaisahab; 26-Jul-2011 at 06:42.

  2. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Diamondsmith View Post
    Hello. Can we enumerate entities belonging to different semantic categories together? For example:
    1.The police seized 50 grenades and firearms;
    2.We saw 9 monks and children in the temple;
    3.There were 200 soldiers and horses on the hillside;
    4.The police seized 20 guns and knives.
    No.3 might be a little bit problematic.
    Many thanks.
    No, it's too ambiguous. An example of an alternative version of each of your sentences would be:

    1. The police seized 50 weapons, including grenades and firearms.
    2. We saw monks and children in the temple - about 9 people in total.
    3. There were 200 mounted soldiers on the hillside (if each of the 200 soldiers was indeed on horseback - in that case it would be clear that there were 200 soldiers and 200 horses).
    4) The police seized 20 weapons - 10 guns and 10 knives (or however many there were of each weapon).

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    #4

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Thanks a lot for the analysis. I asked this because some Englishmen said these are grammatical sentences but only ambiguous.

    I guess it might be useful to distinguish grammaticality from acceptabilty. Chomsky's "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" is grammatical but not quite acceptable English.

    I wonder if the examples I provide here are just 'ambiguous'.

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    #5

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Well they certainly are ambiguous. Take No. 1, for example: The police seized 50 grenades and firearms. Sounds like it's not fifty each but fifty in all, but it's not clear, so we're guessing. And if so, how many grenades and how many firearms? Twenty-five of each? Thirty and twenty?

    Can you see my point? The same goes for the other examples as well. Even you said No. 3 was 'a little problematic'. It's like with Chomsky's sentence; the problem is not syntactic but semantic.

    -Not a teacher-

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    #6

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hedwig View Post
    Well they certainly are ambiguous. Take No. 1, for example: The police seized 50 grenades and firearms. Sounds like it's not fifty each but fifty in all, but it's not clear, so we're guessing. And if so, how many grenades and how many firearms? Twenty-five of each? Thirty and twenty?

    Can you see my point? The same goes for the other examples as well. Even you said No. 3 was 'a little problematic'. It's like with Chomsky's sentence; the problem is not syntactic but semantic.

    -Not a teacher-
    Thank you!! So, how can I say then ... Two Englishmen and two Australian librarians have confirmed to me they often heard such sentences in the TV program: "The police seized 20 knives and firearms last night". I myself have also heard similar expressions. That's why I asked. Thank you just the same.

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    #7

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Diamondsmith View Post
    Thank you!! So, how can I say then ... Two Englishmen and two Australian librarians have confirmed to me they often heard such sentences in the TV program: "The police seized 20 knives and firearms last night". I myself have also heard similar expressions. That's why I asked. Thank you just the same.
    Oh, well... journalists are not known for their precision.

    You, however, aim for excellence if you've joined this forum.

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    #8

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hedwig View Post
    Oh, well... journalists are not known for their precision.
    You, however, aim for excellence if you've joined this forum.
    Some friends in other forums suggested that adding "A total of" will solve the ambiguity.

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    #9

    Re: Can we count nouns of different categories together?

    Quote Originally Posted by Diamondsmith View Post
    Some friends in other forums suggested that adding "A total of" will solve the ambiguity.
    Yes and no.

    A total of 20 knives and firearms were seized last night.

    It's certainly less ambiguous (not ambiguous at all, in fact) as far as the total number is concerned but you still don't know how many knives and how many firearms.

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