Re: Usage "types of car"

Subject: Re: Usage "types of car"
From: "Wojcik, Richard H" <Rick -dot- Wojcik -at- PSS -dot- BOEING -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 16:36:03 -0700


First of all, you can have a hill with just one bean in it, and you can have a "hill of bean", i.e. a hill made up of bean matter. You can also have a "type of cars", although it sounds awkward out of context. English is notoriously ambivalent when it comes to number marking, and all kinds of funny effects take place in noun phrases. For example:
(1) Those kind of parties are dangerous.
(2) Those kinds of parties are dangerous.
While (2) is acceptable to everyone, sentences like (1) are heard all the time. I think that most speakers of English would have a hard time justifying the grammatical coherence of (1), but (2) comes off as pedantic in some contexts. For me, (1) gets better when you reduce "kind of" to "kinda" in speech.

One of the issues here is mass vs. plural. Many of the world's languages don't even have count nouns, just mass--e.g. Thai. You have to use a word that designates the class unit before you can express plurality. English builds "countiness" into its nouns, but English just happens to be very skimpy about using inflections to mark grammatical and semantic shifts. So you get a lot of grammatical constructions where words undergo a kind of "functional shift"--they jump categories without any overt morphological tag to signal the jump. Any count noun in English can be used as a mass noun and vice versa under the right circumstances. For example, you can say "That's a nice coffee", meaning "That's a nice kind of coffee." (I find it very difficult to pluralize "information", however, even though I've been to France many times. :-) There are languages in which that kind of shift in function would require an overt grammatical marker on the word.

I can't give you an "authoritative" answer as to whether "types of car" (mass noun) or "types of cars" (count noun) should be preferred. They may mean subtly different things, as another contributor tried to point out, or they may just be the typically English "ambivalent plural" construction. I do recommend Quirk et al.'s A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman, 1985) for an excellent source of material on tricky little corners of the English language. Quirk et al. isn't a style guide like The Chicago Manual of Style, but a genuine linguistic reference. Look in chapter 5 (entitled "Types of Noun Phrase") under Partitive Constructions for some interesting observations about these type(s) of contructions...uh, this type of construction.

BTW, is it "that type of guy" or "that type of A guy". Oh well. :-)

Rick Wojcik

> ----------
> From: Chris Kowalchuk[SMTP:chris -at- BDK -dot- NET]
> Reply To: Chris Kowalchuk
> Sent: Thursday, July 29, 1999 11:19 AM
> To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
> Subject: Re: Usage "types of car"
> Would those in the "types of cars" camp also say "type of cars" if there
> were only one type?
> e.g.: "There is only one good type of cars on the market today."
> If you don't agree with that usage, then there is no argument for
> putting car in the plural, when clearly it is the number of types with
> which we are concerned.
> "of car" is a genitive construction which explains to what class of
> thing the "type" belongs (or refers). You would only put the object in
> the plural if a plural were called for conceptually. We could have a
> hill of beans (because you can't have a hill with only one bean in it),
> for example, but the hill would still consist of one, or possibly many
> types of bean. The very notion of a type precludes plurality--that's why
> we divided the objects into types, presumably to make a distinction. So
> say I. But hey, I'm just that type of guys.
> Chris Kowalchuk
> From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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