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Generic statement

Posted by R. Berg on May 28, 2001

In Reply to: Generic statement posted by ESC on May 28, 2001

: : Hi!

: : Thank you very much for your explanation last time.

: : I have another question.

: : 1. A dog is a friendly animal.
: : 2. Dogs are friendly animals.
: : 3. The dog is a friendly animal.

: : I understand all of them are correct and people tend to use sentence type #2 a lot.

: : How about next group as generic statements?

: : 1. A Chinese is a good cook.
: : 2. Chinese are good cooks.
: : 3. The Englishman is not a good cook.
: : 4. The Chinese are good cooks.

: : Do all of these sentences sound correct? My American friend told me that a sentence #4 is good, but sentences #1 and #2 doesn't sound right. Is she right?

: : Thanks again. I appreciate your help. Have a nice holiday!

: : All the best,

: : K Yone

: My opinions as a speaker of American English:

: The first group sounds OK.

: In the second group, No. 4 is the only one that sounds 100 percent OK to me.
: No. 1 doesn't sound right because it makes me want to ask, a Chinese what? A man, a woman, a vegetable?
: 2. Is semi OK but adding a "the" as in 4 is better.
: 3. "The Englishman" makes it sound like you are talking about one specific Englishman rather than the general population. "The American likes sports." "American" meaning "the average American." People speak that way. But it sounds a little "off" to me.

I am another native speaker of American English. I agree with your American friend and with the analysis above. Here's a little more: "Chinese are good cooks" sounds wrong without "the," but "Italians are good cooks" is OK. These are OK with or without "the": Germans, Swedes, Africans, Hawaiians, Eskimos, Egyptians, Canadians, New Zealanders, New Yorkers, Mexicans, Texans, Finns, Koreans, Spaniards, Israelis, Chileans. These need "the": Japanese, Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Irish, Dutch. I don't know of any rule for this. From these examples, it seems that the rule is that "the" is not needed if the name of the population looks like an ordinary plural, ending in -s.