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Can I ask "Does she speak foreign languages?" instead of asking "Does she speak a foreign language?" And what is the difference between the two?

  • Are there vacancies in the motel? vs Are there vacant rooms? vs Is there a vacant room? vs Are there any vacant rooms? – Blessed Geek Jun 10 '15 at 6:27
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    You should take a look also at our sister site, English Language Learners, where questions such as this one would be more suited. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 10 '15 at 8:42
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Well, the main difference between the two is that your first sentence is plural and your second sentence is singular. Depending what you want to ask, both of your sentences are valid to use.

  • Thanks. But what is the common one people use? – user121201 Jun 10 '15 at 2:02
  • This is my opinion. I think that 'Can she speak a foriegn language is more common. – CipherBot Jun 10 '15 at 2:17
  • Either is common, but using the plural version, say "Does she speak any foreign languages?" – Steven Littman Jun 10 '15 at 3:14
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Yes, you can. Replace the word(s) "foreign language" with some languages.

Does she speak French and Spanish?

or

Does she speak French?

Both examples are perfectly acceptable sentences, but the first asks about multiple languages (a minimum of two).

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Can you use the first question instead of the second?
Let's see what they actually mean.

"Does she speak foreign languages?" - You are inquiring if she can speak (any) foreign languages.

"Does she speak a foreign language?" - This question may fit into the following situations:
1. You hear her speak a language, which you suspect to be a foreign one.
2. You're mocking at someone, who speaks, English for example, with a heavy accent.
3. You want to know if she speaks any foreign language, for "a" can mean "any".

And what is the difference between the two?
It depends upon the situation. If you're in a foreign country and you want to know if, for instance the receptionist, speaks (any) foreign languages, then the first question would seem more appropriate, although the second is grammatically correct and might also mean the same in that context, but not the common one.

  • My pleasure! Welcome to EL & U! Do you think the above answered your question? – Sankarane Jun 10 '15 at 9:56
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"Does she speak foreign languages?" implies that you are asking the person if "she" speaks multiple foreign languages.

If you ask, "Does she speak a foreign language?" it implies that there is only one language that you are asking about, but it doesn't necessarily mean that she doesn't speak more than one foreign language.

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    "She speaks a foreign language" is true if she speaks at least one foreign language. It is not false if she speaks more than one. – curious-proofreader Jun 10 '15 at 2:32

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