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I am curious to know about the plural/singular form of addressing a species. For example, which expression is correct or more appropriate:

Lion does not eat wolf

Lions do not eat wolves

Or do you use never for expressing such negative attitude of habit as

Lions never eat wolves

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I think in expressions you can use singular form because it refers to the kind of species not the quantity of species. But in academic references it is different then your verbs have to follow the subject. Never is OK! –  Persian Cat May 1 '13 at 11:38
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"A Lion does not eat (a) wolf" and "Lions do not eat wolves" are fine. Never is not necessary in a general context. –  Kris May 1 '13 at 13:22
    
I'm happy with the usage of species to identify types of human food (using ellipsis): I've never eaten rattlesnake / moose / hedgehog (meat). However, I'm not sure the usage is common for other meat-eaters: ??Polar bears don't eat penguin. Of course, many species have allowable uninflected plurals, which would complicate the analysis: wolves eat bison. –  Edwin Ashworth May 1 '13 at 18:22

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In general, the plural form of the species name should be used (both as subject and object).

  • Lions do not eat wolves (although I bet they would, if hungry enough).
  • Hyenas do not eat wildflowers.
  • Horses sleep standing up.
  • Blue whales eat krill, and the occasional Jonah.

Note that "krill" is both singular and plural (actually collective, since an individual of a krill species is rarely referenced). A similar example is

  • Deer eat moss

Since nobody looks at moss and says "Oh, look! Mosses!" From a technical point of view, a specialist might say "mosses" or "krills" when speaking of multiple individual species. "There are 98 mosses," but this is not used in common parlance. Most people, probably even specialists, would say "There are 98 species of moss (or krill)." And of course, "deer" is both singular and plural.

Now, you could use the definite article to generalize upon the species, and in that case you would use the singular:

  • The lion does not eat wolves.
  • The blue whale prefers krill over plankton.

But this sounds rather pretentious, even if correct.

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