Specifically, in following sentences, which ones are correct?

  1. Elephants are huge.
  2. The elephant is huge.
  3. An elephant is huge.
  4. Elephant is huge.

I think 1 and 2 above are correct, but how about 3 and 4?

Can we refer to a specific kind of objects/things in life using a singular noun? Can use sentences like "Car is ..." or " University has ..." ?

Thank you.

  • These generic noun phrases, and they have their own syntax and semantics. Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 20:49
  • @John Lawler: John, I'm curious, after taking a quick look at your dissertation, about the OPs forth case, which I didn't see mentioned in your paper, but looks like it fits as a generic NP. Does it fit the framework of your analysis as well? (e.g. Lunches are provided / The lunch is provided / A lunch is provided / Lunch is provided ) Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 23:27
  • 1
    The fourth case is ungrammatical. Elephant is a count noun, so it needs either an article or a plural marker. Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


The first three are correct, the fourth isn't.

'The car transformed life in the twentieth century.'

'University plays an important part in establishing teenagers' independence from the parental home'. (NB Both 'university' and 'parental home' are examples of what you are seeking.)

'The Ipod has taken over from the CD as the basic storage device for a music collection'.

'The giraffe is the tallest animal in the jungle.'

'The bookstore is in long-term decline, under assault from both on-line ordering, and electronic readers'.

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