As a native english speaker if i was asked, maybe by a child, "Why are they eating grass?"
I would answer that child "Cause they're a horse, horses eat grass." Because if you dont know the gender of animals in the US, it is common to refer to it as IT or THEY.
So I understand the confusion here, because I thought the answer was THEY ARE A HORSE as well. The only reason I did not put it is because I expect other languages not to be as simple as we are with english. Other languages are much more eloquent with their words than English is
If you know that "to have" can take the form of "have" or "has", you will understand that the French verb "avoir" can have various forms as well, depending on the subject.
French conjugations are much more extensive than English ones:
j'ai, tu as (informal singular "you"), il/elle/on a, nous avons, vous avez (formal singular or plural "you"), ils/elles ont.
After the long discussion in "La longueur des bateaux est très différente," about how French treat plural possessives very differently than English speakers, doesn't this translate better to, "They have horses," or "They each have a horse.", i.e. one each? Or is there a difference and it could be either?
"Ils ont un cheval" can translate to:
- they have a horse (they share one)
- they (each) have a horse
"They have horses" can translate to:
- ils/elles ont un cheval - each their own
- ils/elles ont des chevaux - one or more each, shared or not
As you can tell, without context, there can be a degree of uncertainty or ambiguity in both languages. The main reason is that a horse is a possession that can be individual or shared.
When the thing possessed is usually not shared, you will have to remember that without context, a singular object owned by a plural subject conventionally means "each their own".
- Les juges portent une robe noire = Judges wear black robes.
- Elles tournent la tête = They turn their heads.
Thanks again, Sitesurf. You always clarify. This one is going to take me some time to internalize. It is a fundamental difference in the way we think about plurals.
If I say, "They have a horse," in English, without context, the first impression is that there is only one horse and they are all sharing it. Any other interpretation would need context or clarification.
If you say, "Ils ont un cheval," in French without context or clarification, the first impression is that there are multiple horses and they each have one?
Why can't "Ils ont un cheval" be "They have one horse" and not "They have a horse"! Aren't both perfectly acceptable? Perhaps it was just a missing piece of code, but I would like to know if otherwise. Anyway, PLEASE up-vote this comment, or give me a lingot, if you don't leave any feedback