the/a female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress

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VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
tiger:
a large Asian wild animal that has yellowish fur with black lines and is a member of the cat family. The female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress . A young tiger is called a tiger cub
Macmillan dictionary

I think it should've been: 'A female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress'. Because "the female tiger" represent the whole class of female tigers, and you can't call that whole class "a tiger/tigress".
Thank you.
 
  • VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    "The female tiger" as you say, represents a class. It is not a class. The phrase is singular.
    It is not a class, but not a single tiger either.
    Look at the next sentence in the phrase: "A young tiger is called a tiger cub" -- that's logical -- you may call any single young tiger a tiger cub".
    Hence, "The female tiger is about 26 inches tall at the shoulder. " "
    The female tiger bears young when she is about 3 years old."
    This is different. You can say "female tigers are about 26 inches tall at the shoulder", but can't say "female tigers can be called a tigress". Or you can?:confused:
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    No.;) Female tigers can be called tigers or tigresses.

    I prefer the original sentence.:)
    "The female tiger can be called a tigress" sounds like the whole class of female tigers can be called "a tigress". That's odd:(.
    A female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress
    Female tigers can be called tigers or tigresses
    The female tiger can be a tiger or tigress a very angry animal if threatened or provoked, angrier than the male tiger. -- I find this one more logical, because "a very angry animal" CAN represent the whole class of female tigres:confused:
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I'm with Macmillan and the other native speakers. Perhaps your adherence to "black and white" strict rules is the problem, vik. English usage is full of gray (grey?) areas: quite often there will be no real difference between using "a" and "the" and natives don't really care in such sitatuions, so neither is incorrect or "should've been the other". (Perhaps it's time to "adjust" the grayscale rather than tilt against the windmills of dictionary definitions and their article usage? or as Glen pointed out in the link about tigers pob cited : "Just accept that -- you'll go crazy if you try to discover a Grand Unified Theory of Article Usage." :D)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    English is, of course, full of grey areas, but I don't see this as one.

    Representing the multiple members of a class by a singular noun is a linguistic device, used for a particular effect. Once that singular noun has been introduced, everything that relates back to it is singular. (Benny's point in #2.)

    "The female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress" represents "Female tigers can be called tigers or tigresses".

    Once you've accepted that "the female tiger" represents all female tigers, it's not logical, in mid-sentence, to abandon the principle of singularity, as you seemed to do here, Vik ...
    Because "the female tiger" represent the whole class of female tigers, and you can't call that whole class "a tiger/tigress".
    You have to finish reading the whole sentence in the singular. Only then can you 'translate' the whole thing back to a plural concept. Think of it as being like transposing a piece of music from one key to another: you don't change the key of just half of a musical phrase, and then leave the rest unchanged.

    I don't see any difference in principle between "The tiger is a large Asian wild animal" and "The female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress". In the two cases, you could say "A female tiger" and "A tiger", but then you'd be saying something different: you really would be talking about one single animal; you wouldn't be representing the whole class of female tigers, or tigers.

    Ws
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thank you Ws, but I don't understand something:)
    You have to finish reading the whole sentence in the singular. Only then can you 'translate' the whole thing back to a plural concept. Think of it as being like transposing a piece of music from one key to another: you don't change the key of just half of a musical phrase, and then leave the rest unchanged.
    Once you've accepted that "the female tiger" represents all female tigers, it's not logical, in mid-sentence, to abandon the principle of singularity, as you seemed to do here, Vik ...
    I do not:). On the contrary, I meant that "female tigers can be called a tigress" is :cross:. And for the same reason I don't like Macmillan's explanation:(.
    I don't see any difference in principle between "The tiger is a large Asian wild animal" and "The female tiger can be called a tiger or tigress".
    I see a significant one: "the (female tiger)" represents thousands of ones. "A tiger" represents only one! A TIGER is much less than THE TIGER. Hence, when you say:
    "The female tiger can be called a tigress" -- you seem to be calling all those thousands tigers "a tiger"...
    On the other hand, "a large Asian wild animal", syntactically, can represent thousands of single tigers, and not only tigers, by the way, so it's fine.
    That's what confusing me...
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    On the contrary, I meant that "female tigers can be called a tigress" is :cross:. And for the same reason I don't like Macmillan's explanation:(
    Now I'm the one who doesn't understand something, Vik.;) "Female tigers can be called a tigress" is clearly wrong, both grammatically and semantically.

    But Macmillan says "The female tiger can be called a [...] tigress". "The female tiger" is singular, and "a tigress" is singular. The whole sentence can then be read over to the concept that female tigers can be called tigresses. If you prefer, think of "The female tiger can be called a tigress" as "Each member of the class which is 'female tigers' can be called a tigress".

    I see a significant one: "the (female tiger)" represents thousands of ones. "A tiger" represents only one! A TIGER is much less than THE TIGER. Hence, when you say:
    "The female tiger can be called a tigress" -- you seem to be calling all those thousands tigers "a tiger"...
    On the other hand, "a large Asian wild animal", syntactically, can represent thousands of single tigers, and not only tigers, by the way, so it's fine.
    If you say that "a large Asian wild animal" can represent thousands, why wouldn't you say that "a tigress" can represent thousands?:confused:

    But again, you seem to be stopping halfway through the 'singular' sentence and saying "Ah, the singular subject represents thousands, but the singular object of the verb doesn't." Why doesn't it?
    Actually, at that point in the unfinished sentence, "the female tiger" doesn't represent thousands. At that point, the sentence might end up being "The female tiger in that cage looks hungry."
    It's only when you complete the sentence with "can be called a tigress" that the whole thing becomes a representation of all female tigers being called tigresses (or of each female tiger, of all those that exist, being called a tigress).

    Ws
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    But Macmillan says "The female tiger can be called a [...] tigress". "The female tiger" is singular, and "a tigress" is singular. The whole sentence can then be read over to the concept that female tigers can be called tigresses. If you prefer, think of "The female tiger can be called a tigress" as "Each member of the class which is 'female tigers' can be called a tigress".
    But the point is that there already is "a tiger" for "each member of the class". Yes, they both are singular. But singular nouns are not always interchangeable: He taught himself to play the violin. "The violin" is singular, but it doesn't mean "a violin" here. You wouldn't replace one with another.
    If you say that "a large Asian wild animal" can represent thousands, why wouldn't you say that "a tigress" can represent thousands?:confused:
    A tigress is only one single tigress, no more, agree?:) A large Asian animal can be: thousands of Asian elephants, tigers, bears etc...
    Every Asian tiger is an Asian animal. But not every Asian animal is an Asian tiger. So the concept of "Asian animal" is wilder than that of "Asian tiger".
    But again, you seem to be stopping halfway through the 'singular' sentence and saying "Ah, the singular subject represents thousands, but the singular object of the verb doesn't." Why doesn't it?
    Sorry, what does it have to do with subjects and objects?
    Actually, at that point in the unfinished sentence, "the female tiger" doesn't represent thousands.
    Yes, but we only consider the whole sentence:)
     
    Last edited:

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    But the point is that there already is "a tiger" for "each member of the class". Yes, they both are singular. But singular nouns are not always interchangeable: He taught himself to play the violin. "The violin" is singular, but it doesn't mean "a violin" here. You wouldn't replace one with another.
    "Play the [musical instrument]" is a set expression. It's not directly comparable to the "female tiger" sentence.

    "The violin can be called a fiddle" (apologies to serious musicians;)) is comparable to "The female tiger can be called a tigress". "Each member of the class which is 'violins' can be called a fiddle."

    A tigress is only one single tigress, no more, agree?:) A large Asian animal can be: thousands of Asian elephants, tigers, bears etc...
    No. 'A large Asian animal' can be an elephant, or a tiger, or a bear. It can't be thousands of anything.

    Sorry, what does it have to do with subjects and objects?
    In "The female tiger can be called a tigress", "The female tiger" is the subject of the verb; "a tigress" is the object of the verb. I expressed it that way just to demonstrate that you were, in mid-sentence, reappraising the singular subject and giving it a plural meaning, then finding the singular object incompatible ....
    "The female tiger can be called a tigress" -- you seem to be calling all those thousands tigers "a tiger"...
    But "the female tiger" isn't "thousands of tigers". It's still singular.

    Consider a scenario where you're talking specifically about two tigers in a zoo (one male, one female). "The female tiger can be called a tigress" refers to that particular female tiger. In the different context of a general dictionary definition, the same sentence still has a singular nature, but once it's obvious that "the female tiger" is being used to represent (not be) the class of female tigers, then the whole sentence can be extrapolated to a plural meaning (that female tigers can be called tigresses). It's not appropriate to make that extrapolation in mid-sentence.

    A spokesman represents a whole group of people, but at no point does the spokesman become the group, nor does he become plural. Think of the "the female tiger" as the linguistic 'spokesman' for the whole class of female tigers.

    Yes, but we only consider the whole sentence :)
    Exactly. (See above.)

    Ws
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Just one question please.:) I admit the idea of "the" here meaning "each member of the class".
    But it doesn't work in this case: The kangaroo inhabits Australia and New Guinea.
    Right?
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Right.

    So? Who told you that English was logical?

    Just face it, VikNikSor, that's the way we use this blessed language. When talking about an entire category of animals and plants we have a free choice: use the plural; use the + singular; use a + singular. These are all correct for most categories. Only the singular on its own without the is not permissible.

    There may of course be exceptions... :D.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    When talking about an entire category of animals and plants we have a free choice: use the plural; use the + singular; use a + singular.
    But it doesn't work in this case: The kangaroo inhabits Australia and New Guinea.
    Hi all,
    So far you have mentioned 'the animal can (be called)' and 'the animal is (called)' is possible; are all the 'the animal does' impossible (inhabits)?
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Yes, I understood that you meant it wasn't correct in the 'each member of' / category sense. So I am wondering whether it isn't correct because the 'category sense' only allows helping verbs is and can, but not full value verbs like 'inhabit'.'
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I wouldn't go down that path, siares.

    How to interpret "the [noun]" in a particular sentence, when it represents a class or category, is a matter of context, not of any particular grammatical 'type' of verb.

    In "The female tiger can be (or is) called a tigress", the interpretations as 'any female tiger' or 'each female tiger' or 'every female tiger' all work, because the sentence is about calling something "a tigress".

    In the case of "The kangaroo inhabits Australia and New Guinea", the sentence is about the normal habitat of the species (or genus, or subgenus) commonly named 'kangaroo'. It's not about individual kangaroos one by one. Interpreting it as "each (or every) kangaroo" wouldn't be correct, because some kangaroos inhabit zoos and wildlife parks outside of Australia and New Guinea.

    But you could imagine a sentence with a verb other than be or a modal (therefore what you call 'a full value verb'), where the "each" interpretation would be valid:
    "The kangaroo has a long tail": here, you could think of it as "each member of the kangaroo species has a long tail".

    Ws
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    a verb other than be or a modal (therefore what you call 'a full value verb'), where the "each" interpretation would be valid:
    Thanks Wordsmyth!
    I also had 'had' in mind as a modal. So just to double check, with 'each' interpretation these verbs is valid?:
    The kangaroo uses its tail for balance. or The kangaroo survives long periods of time without water.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I also had 'had' in mind as a modal.
    "Have" can never be a modal verb. It can sometimes be an auxiliary, but in this case it's not, because it's not used with a past participle: it just has its normal sense of 'possess'.
    So just to double check, with the 'each' interpretation, with these verbs, is valid?:
    The kangaroo uses its tail for balance. or The kangaroo survives long periods of time without water.
    Yes, and yes.

    Ws
     
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