Are the following (attempted) generalizations all correct?

1 Brazilians are fun-loving (people)
2 A Brazilian is (a) fun-loving (person)
3 The Brazilians are fun-loving (people)
4 The Brazilian is (a) fun-loving (person)


It seems to me (1) would be by far the most usual and acceptable way to make these kinds of generalizations, while (2) and (3) are possible and (4) very unlikely and maybe frowned upon according to traditional textbook grammar.


Then, much to my surprise, leafing through "The Grammar Book" (Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman), I saw the following examples/explanation:

"Many reference grammars and ESL/EFL texts (e.g., Quirk and Greenbaum, 1973) cite examples such as the following that state that all four patterns express generic meaning - the implication being that they share the same meaning and use:

1. The German is a good musician
2. A German is a good musician
3. The Germans are good musicians
4. Germans are good musicians


Do most grammarians agree that the four utterances are equally possible?

...Articles are so tricky...

A student of mine recently wrote the following:

" When the President took office and launched the federal program to eradicate hunger from the country, Monsanto offered help to Mr. Graziano, general coordinator of the program, alleging that an increase in the production of grains would certainly mean more food for the Brazilian."


My immediate gut feeling was that she should have written, "...more food for Brazilians", but now I´m not so sure!


Thank you very much for any comments!

Gisele
São Paulo
Brazil

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Original Post
All four of Gisele's examples about the fun-loving characteristics of her national group are correct. They mean almost the same thing, but their subject matter masks an important distinction that will be discussed if you read further.

Gisele's instinct about the students's writing is correct: the student should have written

...an increase in the production of grains would certainly mean more food for Brazilians.

(A non-Brazilian, especially someone writing from outside Brazil, could have written

...for the Brazilians.)

"The Brazilian" (THE, with a singular noun) was inappropriate, and for a good reason. The inference by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman from Quirk and Greenbaum*--that all four patterns "share the same meaning and use"--was reached from their reading of an abridged, much shorter version of the larger volume, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik**.

True, the smaller volume does not discuss the differences in meaning among the four "generics." The distinction between the the + singular generic and the other generics is lost in the four examples about "Germans." The larger volume however, explains why the the-generic with a singular noun was inappropriate in the student's writing. This is what the authors say about the the + singular generic:

"With singular [noun] heads. [the] is often formal or literary in tone, indicating the class as represented by its typical specimen.... It is more appropriate when used to identify the typical characteristics of a class in terms of personality, appearance, etc." (Section 5.55, pp. 282-283; italics added)

The the-generic with a singular noun represents an abstract type. The student's statement, in contrast, required a generic referring to actual, "flesh-and blood" people, not an abstraction.

Marilyn Martin

* A Concise Grammar of Contemporary English (Longman, 1973)

** Longman, 1985
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