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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alone?

    Hi, everyone.


    My question originated from a post on a local forum about why the singular form, i.e. a first name, was used instead of the plural form in the following sentence:


    Many parents give their babies a first name.

    My view is that this falls under what Micheal Swan calls repeated events in Practical English Usage.


    507 singular and plural (8): distributed plural


    507.2 repeated events


    In descriptions of repeated single events, singular and plural nouns are both possible. When no details are given, plural nouns are more natural.


    Singular nouns may also be used to avoid misunderstanding.

    A friend claimed the following three sentences are all possible options:


    1 many parents give their babies first names.


    2 many parents give their babies a first name.


    3 many parents give their babies the first name.

    Based on what I learnt from Practical English Usage, I would say No.1 and No.2 are both possible and No.2 is not necessarily the better of the two as one only has one first name and there is no danger of misunderstanding.


    With regard to No.3, I think, without a previous sentence clearly stating the name in question, it would invariably lead to people asking which name it is.


    My friend disagreed with me citing pragmatics. Here, I think he meant the meaning of language is what people interpret it to be, which made me feel he could be suggesting even having no idea in mind as to what the first name would be, people could still use the definite article as one would certainly have one first name.


    I don't login in very often. But, I've made it a hobby to read posts here whenever I have time. I only just read this afternoon a question answered in May where people mentioned certain interesting facts:


    Probus: There's seems to be pushing out there are. I try to remind myself to use there are with plural nouns, but constantly forget.


    SoothingDave: A lot of native speakers aren't careful about less v fewer. I imagine the distinction will decrease over time.


    https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/t...so-many-people

    That made me feel perhaps my friend was not necessarily wrong. So I want to ask the good people here whether No.3, when used without any context, would lead to your eye brows being raised and make you wonder which first name the speaker was talking about.


    Richard

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    #2

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    A native speaker would never use sentence three except in an unlikely context involving a previous discussion of two or more specific names.
    I am not a teacher.

  3. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    #3

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    Do some parents not do this?

  4. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    Many parents give their babies a first name. The rest go through life without one.
    Not a professional teacher

  5. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    First, the sentence you cite relates to 507.1 (people doing the same thing), not 507.2 (repeated events). Note, however, that your example goes against what Swan claims to be more natural.

    Second, your thinking here:
    Quote Originally Posted by cubezero2 View Post
    Based on what I learnt from Practical English Usage, I would say No.1 and No.2 are both possible and No.2 is not necessarily the better of the two as one only has one first name and there is no danger of misunderstanding.
    is sound, in my opinion.

    Third, sentence 3 is not correct. (Excluding the extremely unlikely context mentioned in post #2, but that would really have a different meaning, anyway.)

    Fourth, I don't really understand what your friend's argument from pragmatics is exactly, but it sounds like he's wrong.
    Last edited by jutfrank; 19-Nov-2019 at 18:17.

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    #6

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    Quote Originally Posted by Tarheel View Post
    Many parents give their babies a first name. The rest go through life without one.
    Some people, tragically, only have a middle name.

  7. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    #7

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    Quote Originally Posted by SoothingDave View Post
    Some people, tragically, only have a middle name.
    That's why you friends call you Sue; I thought they were Country fans.

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    #8

    Re: What would you think when hearing 'Parents give their babies the first name' alon

    All joking aside (good one, SoothingDave!) I'm surprised no one brought up the possible (and preferred by me), 'Many parents give their baby a first name.'

    While we generally prefer to have our nouns agree in number if appropriate,
    A. It's not a given that parents will have more than one baby.
    B. This sentence can only reasonably be speaking of a decision that parents make at the birth of (usually) one baby.
    C. The original: 'Many parents give their babies a first name' is a little odd, as it sounds almost as if all their babies will have the same name, as in: https://listography.com/jour/poems/t...s_by_dr._seuss

    I'm sure your friend is a good friend, but I would not trust his/her opinion on English usage.

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