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    #1

    Generalization

    In making a generalization, I believe that we can use either "a"(an) or plural forms. In the following sentences, are both accepted and correct in generalizing things in the sentences?

    a) He treats them as if they were a child.
    b) He treats them as if they were children.


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    #2

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    In making a generalization, I believe that we can use either "a"(an) or plural forms. In the following sentences, are both accepted and correct in generalizing things in the sentences?

    a) He treats them as if they were a child.
    b) He treats them as if they were children.
    hi gorikaz,

    The articles 'a' and 'an' are never ever used with plural nouns. So, in (a) it is correct to use 'a' with tne noun 'child', but you said before it 'they were'. Thus, you either say 'He treats him as if he was a child' or 'He treats them as if they were children'.

    Good Luck

  1. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    In making a generalization, I believe that we can use either "a"(an) or plural forms. In the following sentences, are both accepted and correct in generalizing things in the sentences?

    a) He treats them as if they were a child.
    b) He treats them as if they were children.
    IMO, b is much better than a. It's hard to imagine "them" as a single child.

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    #4

    Re: Generalization

    Thank you for your help!

  2. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    Thank you for your help!
    You're welcome.

  3. rewboss's Avatar

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    #6

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by Fitness Lover View Post
    The articles 'a' and 'an' are never ever used with plural nouns. So, in (a) it is correct to use 'a' with tne noun 'child', but you said before it 'they were'. Thus, you either say 'He treats him as if he was a child' or 'He treats them as if they were children'.
    While you are correct that the second form is the only reasonable variant in this particular sentence, "as if they were" is perfectly possible with a singular, as in this sentence:

    He treats every adult as if they were a child.

    There are two issues here -- and this gets a bit confusing, so keep a clear head, take a deep breath, and let's try to unravel the mystery.

    The first issue is the "generic 'he'". You may find in some traditional grammar books something to the effect that if you don't know whether the person being referred to is male or female, you assume male: A teacher must do his job well; a student must do his homework. But today, this is now seen to be sexist and unfair: you should always avoid the generic "he". There are various ways of doing this, and one of them is to use the pronoun "they" with a plural verb, but with a singular meaning. It doesn't always work ("A student must do their homework" is ambiguous in meaning, for example), but this sentence would work: Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school.

    The second issue is the subjunctive, which is dying out in English, but there are still bits of it left. In an if-clause indicating a hypothetical (unreal) situation, the subjunctive can be used with the past tense. A past tense subjunctive looks just like an ordinary past tense, but with one exception: instead of "was", we say "were".

    This is now optional -- it's now common to see "if I was" (as in Midge Ure's hit song If I Was -- "If I was a soldier / Captive arms I'd lay before her"). But "if I were" (as in the song from the musical Fiddler on the Roof which goes, "If I were a rich man...") is still common, and there are still people who think that "if I was" is incorrect, or bad style.

    So, it is quite possible to say: "He treats him as if he were a child."

  4. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Generalization

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    While you are correct that the second form is the only reasonable variant in this particular sentence, "as if they were" is perfectly possible with a singular, as in this sentence:

    He treats every adult as if they were a child.

    There are two issues here -- and this gets a bit confusing, so keep a clear head, take a deep breath, and let's try to unravel the mystery.

    The first issue is the "generic 'he'". You may find in some traditional grammar books something to the effect that if you don't know whether the person being referred to is male or female, you assume male: A teacher must do his job well; a student must do his homework. But today, this is now seen to be sexist and unfair: you should always avoid the generic "he". There are various ways of doing this, and one of them is to use the pronoun "they" with a plural verb, but with a singular meaning. It doesn't always work ("A student must do their homework" is ambiguous in meaning, for example), but this sentence would work: Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school.

    The second issue is the subjunctive, which is dying out in English, but there are still bits of it left. In an if-clause indicating a hypothetical (unreal) situation, the subjunctive can be used with the past tense. A past tense subjunctive looks just like an ordinary past tense, but with one exception: instead of "was", we say "were".

    This is now optional -- it's now common to see "if I was" (as in Midge Ure's hit song If I Was -- "If I was a soldier / Captive arms I'd lay before her"). But "if I were" (as in the song from the musical Fiddler on the Roof which goes, "If I were a rich man...") is still common, and there are still people who think that "if I was" is incorrect, or bad style.

    So, it is quite possible to say: "He treats him as if he were a child."
    I have to disagree with you here:

    But today, this is now seen to be sexist and unfair: you should always avoid the generic "he". There are various ways of doing this, and one of them is to use the pronoun "they" with a plural verb, but with a singular meaning. It doesn't always work ("A student must do their homework" is ambiguous in meaning, for example), but this sentence would work: Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school.

    There are certainly many people who agree with you about the generic "he", but many do not. Many people, including me, object more to the singular "they" than to the generic "he". I agree that one should learn alternatives to both and then use what is more comfortable for one.

    I am not fond of "Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school" because "Each" is singular. One could, however, put this sentence in the plural: All teachers must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school. That solves all of the problems.


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    #8

    Re: Generalization

    MikeNewYork: I have to disagree with you here:

    Rewboss wrote: But today, this is now seen to be sexist and unfair: you should always avoid the generic "he". There are various ways of doing this, and one of them is to use the pronoun "they" with a plural verb, but with a singular meaning. It doesn't always work ("A student must do their homework" is ambiguous in meaning, for example), but this sentence would work: Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school.

    Mike:There are certainly many people who agree with you about the generic "he", but many do not. Many people, including me, object more to the singular "they" than to the generic "he". I agree that one should learn alternatives to both and then use what is more comfortable for one.


    It's amazing, Mike, how 'many people' can accept the illogical 'he' as being descriptive of both genders but they just can't seem to accept gender neutral 'they'. These same folk have no problem with 'you' being both singular and plural. That's hardly seems the definition of rationality.

    Mike: I am not fond of "Each teacher must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school" because "Each" is singular. One could, however, put this sentence in the plural: All teachers must have the right qualifications if they want to work at this school. That solves all of the problems.

    English is full of notional plurality and it isn't at all difficult to make the mental switch. It's done all the time by people who aren't wed to old prescriptions. Clearly, the meaning of 'each teacher' is not singular. It means, "each of these teachers".

    Is 'each teacher' really singular?

    Each teacher must have the right qualifications if he wants to work at this school. His qualifications are reviewed by the ... ."

    Hardly the logical progression that one would expect from this 'singular'.

    This is another 'rule' that was never a rule. Sometime, about 300 or so years ago, some wag wrote another prescription that was almost never followed by people using language in a natural way.




    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/1994_01_24_thenewrepublic.html

    Sometimes an alleged grammatical "error" is logical not only in the sense of "rational," but in the sense of respecting distinctions made by the logician. Consider this alleged barbarism:

    Everyone returned to their seats.

    If anyone calls, tell them I can't come to the phone. No one should have to sell their home to pay for medical care. The mavens explain: [everyone] means [every one], a singular subject, which may not serve as the antecedent of a plural pronoun like [them] later in the sentence. "Everyone returned to [his] seat," they insist. "If anyone calls, tell [him] I can't come to the phone."

    If you were the target of these lessons, you might be getting a bit uncomfortable. [Everyone returned to his seat] makes it sound like Bruce Springsteen was discovered during intermission to be in the audience, and everyone rushed back and converged on his seat to await an autograph. If there is a good chance that a caller may be female, it is odd to ask one's roommate to tell [him] anything (even if you are not among the people who get upset about "sexist language"). Such feelings of disquiet -- a red flag to any serious linguist -- are well-founded. The logical point that everyone but the language mavens intuitively grasps is that [everyone] and [they] are not an antecedent and a pronoun referring to the same person in the world, which would force them to agree in number. They are a "quantifier" and a "bound variable," a different logical relationship. [Everyone returned to their seats] means "For all X, X returned to X's seat." The "X" is simply a placeholder that keeps track of the roles that players play across different relationships: the X that comes back to a seat is the same X that owns the seat that X comes back to.

    The [their] there does not, in fact, have plural number, because it refers neither to one thing nor to many things; it does not refer at all. On logical grounds, then, variables are not the same thing as the more familiar "referential" pronouns that trigger agreement ([he] meaning to some particular guy, [they] meaning some particular bunch of guys).

    Some languages are considerate and offer their speakers different words for referential pronouns and for variables. But English is stingy; a referential pronoun must be drafted into service to lend its name when a speaker needs to use a variable. There is no reason that the vernacular decision to borrow [they, their, them] for the task is any worse than the prescriptivists' recommendation of [he, him, his]. Indeed, [they] has the advantage of embracing both sexes and feeling right in a wider variety of sentences.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++

  5. rewboss's Avatar

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    #9

    Re: Generalization

    Well, I was making a generalisation; nevertheless, the use of "they" with a singular meaning is actually quite old. It died out when the generic "he" became popular and has now come back into fashion. One of the drawbacks with it -- which I have mentioned in other threads -- is that many people (such as yourself) see it as ungrammatical.

    Your use of the plural is the simplest and most obvious solution, and the one I usually go for wherever possible. I just didn't say so because it's not really relevant to this discussion.

  6. rewboss's Avatar

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    #10

    Re: Generalization

    riverkid, would you please refrain from making talking about people being "wed to old prescriptions" and other, similar, accusations? It doesn't help the debate and merely irritates people.

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