a cat/a dog /a dolphin(etc)can x vs. cats/dogs/dolphins can x

susantash

Senior Member
Español de Uruguay
Hi!

I'd like to know which of these versions sounds more natural.
In my oppinion to say "a dolphin can blah blah but it can´t blah blah" doesn't sound very natural. I would definitely use the plural form. The thing is that this is a teaching point and I have to teach it today, so I need to be really sure of which version is better.
Thanks a lot!!
 
  • . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    In my opinion both statements are the same.

    A cat can purr but it can't type.
    Cats can purr but can't type.

    A dolphin can swim but it can't tap dance.
    Dolphins can swim but can't tap dance.

    If you start the sentence ostensibly referring to a singular dolphin then you should finish the sentence in the singular.

    If you start with a plural reference you should finish with a plural.

    I think that it is ever so slightly more correct to say;
    Dolphins can swim but can't tap dance.
    This is because you are referring to dolphins in general not to one particular dolphin.

    .,,
    I hope I haven't blah blahed too much.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    . said:
    In my opinion both statements are the same.
    [...]
    I think that it is ever so slightly more correct to say;
    Dolphins can swim but can't tap dance.
    This is because you are referring to dolphins in general not to one particular dolphin.[...]
    That is very delicately expressed - and exactly how I feel.

    There is just a small possibility that if you start off with "A cat can purr but it cnn;t ypet (go away Tigger)", someone might think you were talking about one specific cat. Unlikely, but possible.
     

    susantash

    Senior Member
    Español de Uruguay
    So you would say "Dolphins can xx, but they can't yy"?
    What I mean is if this is what you would automatically say if you wanted to talk about animals' abilities; that is, the first thing that comes to your mind. This is preciesely the kind of language I want my students to use; what native speakers actually say and not what "grammar rules" say it´s correct.
     

    Fernita

    Senior Member
    castellano de Argentina.
    susantash said:
    So you would say "Dolphins can xx, but they can't yy"?
    What I mean is if this is what you would automatically say if you wanted to talk about animals' abilities; that is, the first thing that comes to your mind. This is preciesely the kind of language I want my students to use; what native speakers actually say and not what "grammar rules" say it´s correct.
    Susantash,
    When talking in general, I would always use the plural.
    Dolphins are very intelligent. They can do this or that.
    Dogs can jump, they can run very fast but I´d say Dogs bark.
    I don´t think it´s an ability but a general characteristic of dogs. I´d use can for abilities but not for general characterics.

    When showing the students a picture:
    What has the girl got?
    A cat/a dog or She´s got two dogs, etc.

    Hope it helps you.
     
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