family as a non-count noun

JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
Sometimes, "family" can be used as a non-count noun.
The following sentences are taken from Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

(1) He spent a quiet evening at home with family.
(2) She was surrounded by friends and family.
(3) He has family in California.
(4) They treat their guests like family.
(5) You're always welcome here because you're family.

Now, I have inserted these boldfaced words to make "family" a count noun as follows:

(1') He spent a quiet evening at home with his family.
(2') She was surrounded by her friends and family.
(3') He has his family in California.
(4') They treat their guests like their family.
(5') You're always welcome here because you're my family.

Please let me know if any of the latter group of examples is awkward.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I don't think your versions are awkward, JungKim. The possessive adjectives in all those versions are functional. I suppose native English-speakers use the first versions often because the possessive adjectives really aren't necessary for listeners to understand what "family" means.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    (1'), (2'), and (4') are perfectly natural and have the same meaning as the originals.

    (3'): That would sound as if he and his immediate family (either he and his wife and children or, if he is younger, he and his parents) are in California. But "he has family in California" actually means that he has relatives (such as aunts, uncles, cousins) in California, so your revision doesn't work in this case.

    (5'): Again, this doesn't work because it sounds as if "you" are actually related to the speaker, while "you're family" is used more broadly in the original to mean "I think of you as being as close to me as my own family".
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    The sentences in the second set look grammatical to me. In some cases, there is a nuanced difference in meaning.

    The addition of the definite article has an interesting in effect on the meaning of this sentence:

    He has family in California.
    [He is related to people in California. This is the possessive has.]
    He has his family in California. [He is responsible in some way for his family's living in California. This is the causal has. We are likely to think of 'family' as his immediate family, his wife and children.]


    In this one, the meaning of family shifts.

    You're always welcome here because you're family.
    [Family is a very general term. It refers to any relative, and it may even be used metaphorically to include close friends, and so on.]
    You're always welcome here because you're my family. [This one suggests that 'you' constitute his entire family, that he has no one else.]​

    Cross-posted with Parla.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Is there a way to make it a count noun without affecting the nuances of (3) and (5)?

    For instance, are these still different from the original pair? (I'm afraid they might be.:))

    (3'') He has a family in California.
    (5'') You're always welcome here because you're a family.

     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    No, I don't think you can avoid changing the meaning in these contexts. "Family" as a non-count noun generally refers to a relationship. A/the/my family refers to a specific group of people.

    He has a family is generally an odd thing to say. It suggests that he has more than one family, one of which is in California.

    You're always welcome here because you're a family.
    This suggests that you are a group of people related to each other, but not related to the speaker.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    If you must put something in front of "family" in your first sentence, I recommend that you use "some": He has some family here in California. That means that he has some relatives or family members in California.

    If you must add something to "family" in the second sentence, I recommend that you use "like family" or "like a brother/sister/relative" to me: You're always welcome here because you're like family to me.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    (3'') He has a family in California. - The implication is that he probably has another family elsewhere :) which, in theory, should be illegal and treated as polygamy or bigamy. It would be in my country for sure.
    (5'') You're always welcome here because you're a family. - I would say this when addressing the whole family if I wanted to be visited by whole families only, not by separate individuals.
    Cagey and Owlman posted while I was writing. :)
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    He has a family is generally an odd thing to say. It suggests that he has more than one family, one of which is in California.
    When you say "He has a car", does that suggest that he has more than one car?
    Which, if anything, strongly suggests that he has one car and most likely one car only, I think.
    Maybe I've lost you somewhere. :confused:
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    There are lots of cars, and if he has 'a car', he has one of them.

    However, usually we think of a person's family as the specific group to which they are related by birth and marriage. In particular, we tend to think of a couple and their children as a 'family'. There are not lots of families a person might have. Usually, there is only one of them. Thus it seems strange to suggest that a person has 'a' family, one of several possible families. If you say he has 'a' family in California, we think it's one of a group, and there must be another one somewhere else.
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    No, Jung. The point is that in most countries you're allowed to have only one family.
    Besides, both He has a family and He has a car are out of context, and we should not examine sentences out of context. :)

    GS
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Let's say there's this unmarried man. He is an orphan and doesn't have a children or a relative that he knows of.

    Which of the following can he say?
    (6) I don't have family.
    (7) I don't have a family.
     
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    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hullo, Jung.

    Let's say there's this unmarried man. He is an orphan and doesn't have any children or Ø relatives that he knows of.

    I'd say "I don't have a family".

    GS
    PS Hope you don't mind if I corrected your typos. :)
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Here is my take on this:
    I don't have a family. - I suppose an unmarried childless orphan could say that; it somehow sounds final and blunt
    I don't have any family. - means the same as above (no relatives) but sounds to me more acceptable and less blunt
    I don't have family. :confused: - Yes, it tells me the same as 'any family' but it is not something I would normally expect...
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    He has a family is generally an odd thing to say. It suggests that he has more than one family, one of which is in California.
    I'm going to disagree with many of the above posts.
    He has family. - There are people who are related to him, perhaps a second cousin and a great-grandmother.
    He has a family. - He has a wife and children.
    He has family in California. - There are people who are related to him, perhaps a second cousin and a great-grandmother, who live in California.
    He has a family in California. - He is living here, but he has a wife and children who live in California.

    In all cases above, "his family" is his immediate family while bare "family" could be any relatives so I disagree that 1) and 1') have the same meaning.
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Would it not be better to say "I don't have any family" as a reference to "any relatives"? (in the sense of "I don't have any relatives")

    Just my personal opinion :)

    Hullo,
    I would be inclined to think that I'd pronounce "I don't have any family" if I meant "I have no children".
    GS :)
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    In (1), (2), and (3), family is an uncountable singular noun meaning "relatives"; in (5) family is an attribute meaning "related (to me)". In (4), it could be taken either way. Family does not have either of these meanings when used as a count noun.

    In (2') family might be taken as count or noncount, so there is some ambiguity.
     
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