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This first line of the song is I believe in woman, my oh my.

I'm not a native speaker, but that sounds odd to me. I'd either expect women (I believe in women [in general]) or some kind of determiner (I believe in this/my/a woman).

I wondered whether the singer might speak some dialect that doesn't differentiate between woman and women phonetically, but the band's from England and the word is written as woman on the various lyrics sites all over the net.

What does this line mean and why is it ok to omit the determiner?

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    It's not proper grammar, it seems to have been written that way for stylistic purposes. In general, you shouldn't always expect normal grammar in songs and poetry. – Barmar Feb 13 '15 at 8:07
  • @Barmar: you have any source for the idea it's not "proper" grammar? One can believe in love, as well as in apple pie or woman. – oerkelens Feb 13 '15 at 8:16
  • love is a concept, woman is not. – Barmar Feb 13 '15 at 8:21
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    Woman is used as an(abstract) concept, are you saying you decide what an author is allowed to use conceptually, and what not? Is the sentence all of man's creations "wrong" because man is not a "concept" to you? – oerkelens Feb 13 '15 at 8:24
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    It's called poetic license, poets and song writers deliberately bend "grammar rules" in order to achieve rhyme, metre, alliteration etc. – Mari-Lou A Feb 13 '15 at 8:24
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Woman is the abstract representation of a phenomenon, not a reference to any specific individual female of the human species.

Ok, that sentence isn't going to enlighten anyone much, is it?

If one claims they believe in fairies, or unicorns, it means that they believe these creatures exist. In the case of unicorns or fairies, this is indeed something that necessitates belief because there has been, so far, little actual proof that they actually exist.

On the other hand, believing in (the existence of) women seems absurd — there is no belief involved, nobody will deny that they exist (unless you have grown up and spent your entire live surrounded by men, and “women” are as mythical as unicorns of course).

Apart from a believe in existence, the verb believe can also express a more abstract feeling: a trust in the power, possibilities, skills or capabilities of something or someone.

On the esoteric level, this is expressed as a belief in “(the power of) love”, a belief in “the good in people”.

More down to earth, one can express belief in another person. If I tell a friend that I believe in him, I do not mean I am convinced that he actually exists! I mean that I think he can do what he wants or needs to do. I believe he has the capability to succeed.

The line from the song is somewhere in between those two: the author expresses a confidence in the power and capabilities of women in and of womanhood. He doesn't express any feeling about any specific individual person, but he treats "woman" as a more abstract description of femininity or, if you like, a symbol for all women in the world.

This is a contrast with the use of man to indicate humanity, nowadays including man and women: if we talk about the world of man or man's creations, we (nowadays) assume man to symbolise humans.

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    Can you explain why it's believe in woman and not believe in women? The latter sounds more normal, having the same structure as believe in fairies (you wouldn't say believe in fairy). – Barmar Feb 13 '15 at 8:20
  • A belief in women would mean, like with the fairies, that you believe that women exist. I doubt the author wants to tell the world he believes that women exist. It is about as informative a statement as saying "I believe that apples exist", isn't it? – oerkelens Feb 13 '15 at 8:22
  • I understand that point. Can you explain why it's appropriate to use the singular form for what he's trying to express? I.e. why does I believe in woman mean I believe in femininity? – Barmar Feb 13 '15 at 8:25
  • Alternatively, an expressed belief in women could mean that the author believes in the power to succeed of some specific women in in his life — it would need a lot of context though... – oerkelens Feb 13 '15 at 8:26
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    Remember Jurassic Park? Dr. Ian Malcolm: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” — Dr. Ellie Sattler: “Dinosaurs eat man … woman inherits Earth.” She could well have added “I'm rooting for woman here” or something to that effect. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 13 '15 at 11:10
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In this case, woman stands in for womankind

Women considered collectively: a giant step forward for womankind

Oxford Dictionaries Online

While not the most common construction, it connotes belief in the essence of the gender rather than any one representative or group of individuals.

Supplement

Use of woman (singular) can mean

[IN SINGULAR] Female adults in general: woman is intuitive

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Similarly, Collins offers one definition of woman (singular) as

women collectively; womankind

The choice between woman, women and womankind is stylistic.

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  • Thanks, but the question remains why the singular is used. – Pida Feb 13 '15 at 20:59

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