Thursday, September 10, 2009

Youth

Here is another error that is exceedingly common in the pages of the Straits Times (7 September 2009). Reporting on the launch of this year’s Speak Good English Movement, the newspaper asks young people for their views on whether ‘youths’ are the right target for the campaign.

This use of youths to mean ‘young people’ in general is non-standard. As we can see from the following entry from the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, the word youths as a [C] or countable noun (i.e. singular or plural) can refer only to males, especially teenaged ones involved in violent or criminal activities. However, the Straits Times clearly refers to young people both male and female, engaged in nothing more objectionable than Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

But there's another meaning to the word 'youths', which can be used to refer to young people in general.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Yes, but it's not quite the same -- this sense of the word is listed as (2a) in the dictionary entry I quoted, but note that it's marked [U], or uncountable.

This means you can say 'the youth of Singapore' (uncountable, no plural -s-) but not 'the youths of Singapore (countable plural).

The Straits Times always uses the sense of (2) but with the grammar of (2a) -- this is non-standard (or, at best, it's Singapore English).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your clarification!

Anonymous said...

If the article was to use the correct noun, should it read, "or is youth being singled out?", since "youth" is an uncountable noun?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

No, 'are' is better -- 'youth' is a collective noun, and many collective nouns take (or can take) plural verbs, especially in British English. Hence also, for instance, 'The youth of Singapore give me hope' (not 'gives'). Same with 'police' -- 'The police are investigating'.

That said, I think 'youth' isn't the best word -- 'young people' would've been more idiomatic in that article.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused! How do we determine whether to use a singular or plural verb with uncountable or collective nouns? The sentence "Do not buy mouldy food as they may contain mycotoxins." - Can the "food" in this case be considered as a collective noun?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Collective nouns are a separate category on their own -- some are always singular (but may take plural verbs, e.g. 'the police are' ... never 'the polices are'), and some are countable (e.g. family/families).

Uncountable nouns are *not* the same as collective nouns, and should be contrasted with countable nouns. Examples of uncountable nouns are food, bread, flour, sugar, furniture, information, and equipment.

Remember that collective nouns refer to groups -- groups of people and things, which may act as one (the group as a single unit) or as individuals.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Talk about the "art" of English! Thanks for the tips! =)