I am woman

srečkokosovelfanclub

Member
Slovenščina
Hello!

Recently, Duolingo surprised me with this English sentence: "I am woman." Is this grammatically correct?
I was under the (apparently false) impression that "woman" was a countable noun and that countable nouns needed determiners in front of their headwords. Is this not the case?
The only other thing that comes to mind is that special exception where countable animals are used in the singular without an article when used in the sense of game ("have you ever shot duck?") - but somehow I struggle to apply this principle to the noun "woman".
Unless "woman" can also be an adjective?

Thank you in advance for any help!
 
Last edited:
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    In this sense, "I am woman" means "I am symbolic of womankind." Womankind is uncountable. There is a song called "I Am Woman" which demonstrates this use.
     

    srečkokosovelfanclub

    Member
    Slovenščina
    Thank you!

    I must admit, I still find this very strange. Looking through the enTenTen20 Corpus, I see that the string of words "I am woman" occurs in 0.0000038% of the corpus - that's quite low! Additionally, the vast majority of those seem to be a reference to the song you mentioned.

    I then filtered out the song references as best as I could. The examples that were left were, as best as I could tell, poetry, shakespearean or from dating websites, written in non-standard English:

    "as below with one of Sonia Sanchez's finest books: when i am woman, then i shall be wife of your eyes when i am woman, then i shall receive the sun when i am woman, then i shall be shy with pain when i am woman, then shall my laughter stop the wind when i am woman, then i shall swallow the earth when i am woman, then i shall give birth to myself when i am woman, ay-y-y, ay-y-y, ay-y-y, when i am woman. . ."​
    "I am very good in cooking. I can describe myself as kind, romantic, and cheerful. I am woman that is always in a good mood!"​
    "I am interesting to you at this popular dating sites. I am woman for marriage! I am a positive, active and energetic girl, who doesnt stand on one place, but works on herself all the time and enjoys every day in her life! I love life and dont sit still."​
    "As I am man, My state is desperate for my master's love; As I am woman,–now alas the day!"​
    I have come up with a theory: is it possible that "I am woman" could be one of those fossilized remnants from before Modern English, a bit like "I am become death"? Because, statistically, the number of hits in the corpus is just too low to be acceptable as standard usage ...
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Also, with Duolingo there’s often a discussion under the sentences. You could read that to see what other people have said.
    Also there maybe an option to “report” as an error.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "I am very good in cooking. I can describe myself as kind, romantic, and cheerful. I am woman that is always in a good mood!"
    "I am interesting to you at this popular dating sites. I am woman for marriage! I am a positive, active and energetic girl, who doesnt stand on one place, but works on herself all the time and enjoys every day in her life! I love life and dont sit still."

    These are obviously profiles from a dating site. The English is incorrect, and not written by native English speakers. You can disregard them.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Thank you!

    I must admit, I still find this very strange.
    It is not strange, it is rare. The context is usually related to a few instances of exhortative cries of feminism. And, since the song, it had a burst of popularity, followed by a decline.

    Looking through the enTenTen20 Corpus, I see that the string of words "I am woman" occurs in 0.0000038% of the corpus.
    I would imagine that is accurate. But rareness is not the same as being incorrect.

    Sonia Sanchez's finest books: when i am woman, then i shall be wife of your eyes when i am woman, then i shall receive the sun when i am woman, then i shall be shy with pain when i am woman, then shall my laughter stop the wind when i am woman, ...
    Yes, that is precisely the use I meant.

    "I am very good in cooking. I can describe myself as kind, romantic, and cheerful. I am woman that is always in a good mood!"
    Bad editing.

    "I am interesting to you at this popular dating sites. I am woman for marriage! I am a positive, active and energetic girl, who doesnt stand on one place, but works on herself all the time and enjoys every day in her life! I love life and dont sit still."
    Illiteracy
    I have come up with a theory:...
    No... That's not going to run.
     

    srečkokosovelfanclub

    Member
    Slovenščina
    Also, with Duolingo there’s often a discussion under the sentences. You could read that to see what other people have said.
    Also there maybe an option to “report” as an error.
    Thank you, I have! The comments were the first place I checked but no one seemed to think the sentence was odd, so I checked the internet, found the song and assumed the phrase to be correct ...
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hello!

    Recently, Duolingo surprised with this English sentence: "I am woman." Is this grammatically correct?
    I was under the (apparently false) impression that "woman" was a countable noun and that countable nouns needed determiners in front of their headwords. Is this not the case?
    The only other thing that comes to mind is that special exception where countable animals are used in the singular without an article when used in the sense of game ("have you ever shot duck?") - but somehow I struggle to apply this principle to the noun "woman".
    Unless "woman" can also be an adjective?

    Thank you in advance for any help!
    Articles don't have "meaning;" they have uses, and uses are contextual.

    I am a woman says that you are "one" member of the set "women."
    I am woman says that you possess everything that being "woman" entails, and not just in a physical sense. It is an assertion of an identity, body and mind.

    Each version in its context.

    That said, I am woman works as a stand-alone sentence; it's self-explanatory. If you expand the sentence, perhaps with a relative clause, you need the article, because you are now building a noun phrase: I am a woman who doesn't get pushed around.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...
    Unless "woman" can also be an adjective?
    ...
    Not in this case, but there are phrases where nouns can act adjectivally. e.g.

    In Greek and Roman mythology, a centaur is a member of a race of people who are half man and half horse.
    The Centaur: Half Human, Half Horse of Greek Mythology

    Just as we can say a centaur is half man half horse, we can make statements like "Michael is all man" or "Jane is all woman".

    "Michael is all man" means that he is manly.
     

    lentulax

    Senior Member
    UK English
    "As I am man, My state is desperate for my master's love; As I am woman,–now alas the day!"
    Context matters. This is (ignore this comment if it isn't!) Viola in 'Twelfth Night' - she is a woman who is masquerading as a man and has taken service with the Duke, with whom she has fallen in love. It's perfectly natural and straightforward in the context.Such contexts, of course, may occur only infrequently.
     

    srečkokosovelfanclub

    Member
    Slovenščina
    Context matters. This is (ignore this comment if it isn't!) Viola in 'Twelfth Night' - she is a woman who is masquerading as a man and has taken service with the Duke, with whom she has fallen in love. It's perfectly natural and straightforward in the context.Such contexts, of course, may occur only infrequently.
    I understand that context matters, but I'm still lost on what exactly that context is. Linguistically historical? Stylistic? Philosophical?
    I am a woman says that you are "one" member of the set "women."
    I am woman says that you possess everything that being "woman" entails, and not just in a physical sense. It is an assertion of an identity, body and mind.
    What SevenDays has said makes sense, I suppose; would I then be correct in expanding this use to all assertions of identity? Would it be correct to say "I am cook" or "you are child" - if I meant them in the philosophical sense of "I am all that being a cook could ever entail"?
    Secondly, if that use is correct, how do we form the plural? Would we say "they are woman" or "they are women"? - keeping in mind, of course, that we still want to convey that meaning of "they are the essence of womanhood".
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    There's no way Duolingo actually meant to say "I am woman." That must be a typo. If they actually did mean it, then they're even crappier than I thought.

    (I hate Duolingo.)
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ...What SevenDays has said makes sense, I suppose...
    I don't suppose that.
    1. Let's be clear that "I am a woman" is 15 times more frequent than "I am woman" (a little less than that in AE).
    2. About half of the books using "I am woman" are referencing one source: "I am woman, hear me roar" the opening words of Helen Reddy's 1972 song, celebrating female empowerment.
    3. Another large proportion are in fact referring to nothing. They are a quotation on the cover of blank notebooks.
    4. Another group of references are of songs, poems and "inspirational" sources.
    So I conclude that "I am woman" is a slogan, and not an example of normal sentence structure. "I am man... I am cook... You are child..." are equally improbable as stand-alone sentences. (But "I am cook to a rich woman in Esher" follows the normal pattern for professions, see threads on:
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I understand that context matters, but I'm still lost on what exactly that context is. Linguistically historical? Stylistic? Philosophical?

    What SevenDays has said makes sense, I suppose; would I then be correct in expanding this use to all assertions of identity? Would it be correct to say "I am cook" or "you are child" - if I meant them in the philosophical sense of "I am all that being a cook could ever entail"?
    Secondly, if that use is correct, how do we form the plural? Would we say "they are woman" or "they are women"? - keeping in mind, of course, that we still want to convey that meaning of "they are the essence of womanhood".
    There is no "rule" in syntax/grammar that can be of guide, because this is not an issue of syntax/grammar. To me, it is of little use to try to find a grammatical explanation for this use, or to determine if this is a "normal grammatical structure." We always say in this forum that context matters, and context especially matters in a construction such as I am woman. What could be the context? If this represents, for example, social commentary (i.e., feminine assertion of identity in a societal hierarchy dominated by males), then this would fall under sociolinguistics, gender-linguistics, or even gender politics, not in what we consider everyday language/grammar. Or maybe the context is simply a humorous/whimsical/tongue in cheek remark (suppose a woman finishes a task that "a woman" isn't supposed to finish, and she says "I am woman!"), then the remark is expressive in and of itself without necessarily making a larger societal point, though I suppose everyone would sort of "get it."

    I wouldn't teach this construction to an English learner, but I wouldn't see it as something so odd that it's "ungrammatical," because this is not about grammar.

    In any event, assertions of identity are usually self-referential, so I wouldn't expect to see it used in reference to a child (as in, You are child). And, even though there is no syntax rule that guides this usage, you can certainly apply linguistics rules, such as pluralization. So we would say I am woman and We are women/They are women. Of course, there would be ambiguity. If you see a sign that says "We are women," you wouldn't know if this sentence is meant as a literal statement (a biological description) or as an assertion of identity.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Recently, Duolingo surprised me with this English sentence: "I am woman."
    You may have read #2, nevertheless, if you haven't, consider this in the context of the Carinthian Peasant Revolt.

    Imagine that the Duke of Carinthia is informed that the peasants are revolting.

    Duke of Carinthia: "Why are these people doing this?"
    Advisor: "Your Majesty, they want Carinthia to be protected against the Ottomans, and they say Carinthia has failed them."
    Duke of Carinthia: "But I am Carinthia! I have not failed. They are ignorant peasants and do not understand! Take men and suppress this stupidity!"

    This is the sense in which it is used. The Duke of Carinthia was held to be the embodiment, or the symbol, of Carinthia.
     

    srečkokosovelfanclub

    Member
    Slovenščina
    You may have read #2, nevertheless, if you haven't, consider this in the context of the Carinthian Peasant Revolt.

    Imagine that the Duke of Carinthia is informed that the peasants are revolting.

    Duke of Carinthia: "Why are these people doing this?"
    Advisor: "Your Majesty, they want Carinthia to be protected against the Ottomans, and they say Carinthia has failed them."
    Duke of Carinthia: "But I am Carinthia! I have not failed. They are ignorant peasants and do not understand! Take men and suppress this stupidity!"

    This is the sense in which it is used. The Duke of Carinthia was held to be the embodiment, or the symbol, of Carinthia.
    Thank you for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it!

    I do have to wonder, however, does Carinthia ever take an article in usual contexts? Would it not sound stranger for him to have said "I am a Corinthia" or "I am the Corinthia"?

    What about this example: if Louis XIV wanted to proclaim himself the Sun, would he have said: "I am Sun"? Or would "I am the Sun" be better?
    (I hope this Sun example is any good; I tried to come up with something of a similarly royal historical background that would include that same element of identity and of embodying a concept in its entirety that we have been discussing here.)
     

    lentulax

    Senior Member
    UK English
    What about this example: if Louis XIV wanted to proclaim himself the Sun, would he have said: "I am Sun"? Or would "I am the Sun" be better?
    (I hope this Sun example is any good
    I don't think it is any good 🙂 If Louis XIV had really believed that he actually embodied the qualities that we attribute to the Sun, he would probably have become known as the Mad King. It is difficult to name any characteristic of Louis X!V which he shared with the sun other than at a metaphorical level - he was not spherical , or extremely hot, nor did the Earth circle round him etc. If someone, as in the song, declares 'I am woman' she does not mean that there are respects in whch she may be compared with a woman.

    SevenDays beat me to it (#12) because I was at the same time struggling to make the point, and he has made it far more effectively than I could. My starting point is that if the formulation is used in English in contexts in which a native speaker understands the intended meaning and accepts it without experiencing it as a some kind of solecism, then the frequency with which you might find it used, the fact that the same idea (more or less) might be formulated in various other ways, that in other contexts the formulation might be used with a different intention, that it may be difficult to define the contexts in which it may be used in general terms which exclude all contexts in which it can't be used, are irrelevant to a consideration of its acceptability. It seems to me that the same problem of definition applies in thousands of cases to the simple issue of choice of vocabulary; even the best of dictionaries will fall short.
     
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