Daily Archives: November 4, 2010

Are this kind of sentences wrong?

A colleague was puzzling over a “correct” example in Words into Type (page 358): “This kind of cats are native to Egypt, but they are common in America.”

Does that sound odd to you? It rubs my ear just a bit. But why?

One colleague averred that the problem was that this and cats don’t match. Ah, this question of matching parts.

Not “these question of matching parts”!

Anything after of modifies the word before of. What’s the word before it? Kind. What is kind? Singular. It’s the head of the noun phrase, and the specifier – which agrees with the head – is this. This kind. This box of cakes, this quintessence of dusts, this kind of cats.

So why does it sound odd? Well, to start with, if kind is singular, why is it “are native”? Shouldn’t it be “is native”?

In fact, there’s a very good argument to be made for sticking with the singular, and many people will do it without being wrong. But it also happens that kind is often used as a collective, an indefinite plural, like bunch and lot and percentage. As in “a very large percentage of people find this sentence odd,” or “a lot of people think it’s strange,” or “a bunch of people said it must be ungrammatical.” Wait – which bunch are saying it’s ungrammatical? Oh, this bunch are. This bunch right here are saying it’s ungrammatical. This…X…are.

But kind feels a bit off in that role, because it’s not a group per se as we usually see it, but rather a class identifier. Like style: “This style of coat is popular.” Who would say “This style of coat are popular”? Well, actually, in other times and places that would count as not only acceptable but in fact expected English. It’s a difference in construal of properties.

In fact, many of us wouldn’t say “This kind of cats is native”; we would more likely say “These kind of cats are native.” Oh, yes, you know you’ve heard it, and perhaps even used it: “These kind.” So we have evidence that in Canadian English “kind” has a quality of a plural.

Still, I find the sentence sounds odd too. And when something sounds odd, that’s because in the version of English you know so well, it’s just not done that way. So in Canadian English, while we may get away with treating kind as a plural (“these kind are”) and as a singular (“this kind is”), we can’t always get away with it as a collective without its sounding odd. Caveat editor.