Wednesday, December 15, 2010


For some mysterious reason, the Straits Times seems never to be able to handle the collective nouns the young and youth.  Both expressions refer to young people considered as a group, and are grammatically plural.  Hence, make it Young Prefer Newspapers.


Azy said...

Hi Ludwig,
I attended one of your classes in NIE a couple of years back.
A question:
'family' is grammatically singular, right? So do I say, 'The family is my friends'?

Thank you!

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Azy

'Family' is one of those collective nouns that can be either singular or plural, depending on whether you're thinking of it as a single unit (= singular) or as individuals forming a group (= plural).

In 'The family ___ my friends', I think the more appropriate verb would be plural 'are', since you're thinking of them as individuals. The plural verb also goes better with the plural noun phrase 'my friends'.

Hope this helps!

Brian said...

Hi Ludwig

Yes, I've also noticed that the phrase 'from young' seems to be part of what one might call standard Singapore English. Fabricated example: 'Singaporeans learn to be self-reliant from young.' I think British English (I'm British) would probably use 'from a young age' here, but the Singaporean version is more concise and perfectly understandable - so why not?

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Brian

Thanks for your interesting comment. Yes, you're absolutely right -- in Singapore it's often 'since young' or 'from young'.

I actually featured an example of this in September 2008:

In my more prescriptive days I'd have labelled this an outright error, but these days I prefer (as you do) to treat it as part of Standard Singapore English. As you rightly say, it's concise and easy to understand, so no good reason to object to it.

Still I find this example very useful when teaching about prepositions -- they're mostly followed by nominals (nouns, pronouns, etc.), but in 'from/since young' we have an adjective following the preposition, which is what makes this usage non-standard.

But of course we do have counter-examples -- such as 'beyond beautiful/rude'!

gerry said...

Hi Dr Tan,

So should it be more ideally 'The Young prefer newspapers' or 'Youth prefer newspapers'? Will it be ok to use 'Young' without 'The' in place of 'Youth'? I'm thinking 'Young' is an adjective rather than a noun like 'The Young' is? Or am I misunderstanding something? =)

Ludwig Tan said...

Hi, Gerry

I think 'the young' needs the article, like 'the police'. So I'd go for 'The young prefer newspapers'.

As for 'youth', perhaps 'Singapore youth' or 'the youth of Singapore', but not 'youth' standing on its own.

There're some nouns that are formed from adjectives (and many of these come from -ed participle verbs), like 'the dispossessed', 'the underprivileged' and 'the elderly'. They're treated as nouns in their own right, and not as adjectives premodifying invisible, understood nouns.