"Dogs have tails and four legs."

  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If you are saying "Dogs have ..." to introduce the characteristics of the archetypical dog then a tail and four legs may be OK, but it sounds strange.
    To overcome that strangeness, it would be entirely normal to say (2). I can see how some may consider it literally incorrect*, but that doesn't make it wrong.
    Does it?

    * Edit ... because dogs (plural) have more than four legs.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I would say "A dog has a tail and four legs."

    The combination "tails and four legs" strikes me as odd.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Hmmm...

    Human beings have a nose, two legs, two arms and two ears;

    Human beings have noses, two legs, two arms and two ears;

    "Vampires traditionally have a cape and two fangs"...

    "Vampires traditionally have capes and two fangs"...

    Yikes, it's that specified number in there that's got me over-thinking this but I still think it's got to be the plural.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    If you are saying "Dogs have ..." to introduce the characteristics of the archetypical dog then a tail and four legs may be OK, but it sounds strange.
    To overcome that strangeness, it would be entirely normal to say (2). I can see how some may consider it literally incorrect*, but that doesn't make it wrong.
    Does it?

    * Edit ... because dogs (plural) have more than four legs.
    Which sentence may be considered wrong, (1) or (2)?
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Right - what I have a problem with is the specified number with the more general noun.

    1. Dogs have tails and legs.
    2. A dog has a tail and four legs.

    Both of these are ok.

    3. Dogs have tails and four legs.

    is strange - and I cannot imagine a situation in which it cannot be replaced with #2 above.

    Of course, we could always reword the sentence and say

    4. Dogs are quadrupeds with tails. :D
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks, everyone!
    And thanks elroy! You nailed it!
    Can I ask one more very related question?

    (4) My baby pulled the tails of each dog.
    (5) My baby pulled the tail of each dog.

    Which is correct?
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    (5) - although I might be more likely to say "each dog's tail."
     
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