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A friend who is learning English asked me this question today and I was unable to give a definitive answer on grammar.

The phrase constructions below are quoted verbatim from them :

  1. An English person generally has a pet
  2. English people generally have a pet
  3. English people generally have pets

Posibilities of tidying up the phrase construction aside, specifically in terms of the grammar:

My thinking is:

  • (1) is incorrect, although I am toying with the idea that perhaps (at a push !) with a more specific subject it could be acceptable (e.g. a blind person generally has a guide dog)
  • (2) and (3) are largely interchangeable, but if you were being strict about grammar, (3) would be the correct answer because of the plural subject.

However I would be interested to know what the specific grammar rules are in relation to generic constructs (both for my own interest and that of my friend).

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  • If "a blind person generally has a guide dog" is okay then "an English person generally has a pet" must be okay too - isn't it the same structure? I don't see why use of a more specific subject makes a difference. Why do you think that one is incorrect? Is "A boy needs a dog" incorrect?
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 2:32
  • @nnnnnn I guess you've got a fair point there. But if you're able to cite me some specific grammar rule that I could explore that would be great. ;-) Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 8:19
  • "An English person" here means "a typical English person", not "one particular person". (1) and (3) are just different ways of expressing the same idea. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 9:38
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    Does this answer your question? A query about the use of Generic Reference with nationalities (John Lawler's generalised answer: 'There are three different types of generic Noun Phrase, distinguished by their articles. They are similar in meaning – positing some proposition over a set – but they are different....'). Here, (1) is acceptable, especially with the qualifier 'generally', though you're right in thinking not all apparent generic NPs are. *'A panda is to be found in China.' Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 17:13

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