15

This question comes from a quiz but I could not find the correct answer.

Hikers climbing a hill

closed as off-topic by WS2, lbf, GEdgar, Dancrumb, JJJ May 13 at 23:44

  • This question does not appear to be about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 42
    Both are correct. Least correct is the test that contained this. – Hot Licks May 13 at 12:00
  • 2
    @HotLicks Afaik that test was designed to identify your dialect and country of origin. They basically ask what feels more correct to you, not what is grammatically correct. – kapex May 13 at 12:44
  • 3
    @GEdgar Perhaps explain to them why they should do that? – Spagirl May 13 at 13:09
  • 1
    Every hiker [in the group] climbed a hill. [general activity] versus Every hiker climbed the hill. [the one in question]. If every hiker climbed a hill, then, all the hikers also climbed a hill. – Lambie May 13 at 18:49
  • 1
    This shows the problem with polling users about their language usage by asking which is "most correct." If they can't determine that one is incorrect -- and I would strongly argue that neither is incorrect -- then the question is meaningless. There is no 'more right" if neither is wrong. Or is that just pedantic semantics? Hmmmmm. I still think it's a bogus poll question. – user8356 May 13 at 21:15
36

This image comes from a Quiz "Which English?" which people were invited to take as part of a study into language acquisition. While the Quiz purports to be able to identify which local variant of English you speak from your answers, it actually serves dual purpose and forms part of a study into how language acquisition varies with age.

According to the supplementary materials (see p.58) of the paper for which the Quiz was conducted, the correct answer varies by English region so there is no universally correct answer to this question.

14

There is no way to know. As mentioned in a comment, using the indefinite article "a" does not mean that the hikers could not have climbed the same hill.

"There was an event at the park. Each participant crossed a stream, climbed a hill, and rode a bike 5 kilometers."

There is only one stream and one hill in the park. And of course, there was more than one bike -- each person had his own bike, because, really, what else would make sense? Sometimes, context is all, and language is not math. The sentence is grammatically and factually correct. However, it's possible that there was one bike and they took turns riding it. That would be something that a scientific paper, legal brief, or other technical documentation would have to clarify. In creative writing, that kind of precision can kill the flow and tone.

  • 1
    Excellent example, showing that both interpretations are plausible. – Rosie F May 13 at 13:21
  • 1
    I'd argue that "Each participant crossed the stream, climbed the hill, and rode a bike" is more informative and is preferable to using the indefinite article. I don't see any reason to be ambiguous about it if everyone is indeed crossing the same stream and climbing the same hill. It's not wrong, but good writing shouldn't leave the door open for misinterpretation. – Nuclear Wang May 13 at 14:08
  • 1
    More amusing interpretation: Each participant was on the same bike at the same time. – Zack May 13 at 14:30
  • @Zack Not unlikely if it was an event for clowns or acrobats. – Barmar May 13 at 18:07
  • @NuclearWang: I'd consider *"the hill" to be wrong in this context, unless the park has only one hill (or there's some other way for the listener to tell which hill is meant). – ruakh May 13 at 21:38
13

The indefinite determiner "a" represents all things in a given category rather than the more specific definite determiner "the". So, if you were to ask me, "Every Hiker climbed a hill" represents a specific group of hikers who climbed non-specific hills and not the same hill. If the sentence said, If every hiker had climbed the hill, it would be only one hill.

  • Does the use of "a" preclude the possibility of every hiker climbing the same hill? It seems a bit pedantic but the statement would still be true if every hiker climbed the same hill. – Areeb May 13 at 11:20
  • 12
    @Areeb No, it doesn't exclude the possibility that there was only one hill. It also doesn't exclude the possibility that there were no hikers at all! – alephzero May 13 at 11:29
  • @Areeb It's true that "a" can be used to refer to the same non-specific hill, but then I would personally use "every hiker climbed some hill" to convey that "[they all climbed the same hill, but I don't know which one]". This is something that would hopefully become more clear in full context. – Sam May 13 at 13:57
  • Re: ambiguity: Imo, that's why the question ask about "most correct" – Jeffrey May 13 at 15:10
  • 1
    @Sam. I think "every hiker climbed some hill" makes it even less likely to mean they all climbed the same hill than "every hiker climbed a hill" does. – Monty Harder May 13 at 15:51
3

This seems quite clear to me. In the first picture, every climber climbed a hill; in the second picture, every climber climbed the hill. It is easy to construct counter-examples where the second picture is described as "every climber climbed a hill", but the default meaning is represented in the first picture. This is why the question is "Which image is most correct?"

  • If a particular hill was not previously established, then the correct sentence for the second picture would be "There was a hill that every hiker climbed." – Acccumulation May 13 at 15:56
1

In my native dialect (General American), it’s ambiguous, but I’d assume it probably meant multiple hills. “Each hiker climbed a hill,” makes that presumption even stronger. “Every hiker climbed the [same] hill,” and “Every hiker climbed his [own] hill,” are both unambiguous.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.