two judges, one robe?
This morning, on the app I had a multiple-choice question to translate "The judges wear black robes." (Note the plural!)
I chose "Les juges portent des robes noires", but was marked wrong because Duolingo also wanted me to select "Les juges portent une robe noire" as a second correct answer.
So - huh? Is that just a quirk of French grammar (that one can use a singular noun to describe what a class of people does, i.e., "judges" wear "a black robe"), which Duolingo doesn't teach but expects us to know? Or is Duolingo just wrong, and "wear black robes", plural, shouldn't translate to "portent une robe noire", singular?
In French, this type of sentence is understood to mean that EACH judge wears a black robe. So a sentence like "Les enfants écrivent son nom" means each student writes his or her own name. It is a bit different from English.
« Les enfants écrivent leur nom » means each student writes his or her own name. ☺
Les juges portent des chaussures, des chaussettes en fil d'Écosse, des lunettes en écaille, une toque, une robe noire, une montre bracelet, une perruque frisée, des sous-vêtements de coton, une alliance (s'ils sont mariés), des bagues (s'ils en ont plusieurs), une chemise (sous la robe), de faux-ongles (si ça leur fait plaisir), un pantalon (sous la robe), des boucles d'oreilles (c'est la mode), un piercing au nombril (mais on ne le voit pas) et de gros dossiers sous le bras.
«Les juges portent des robes noires» signifierait donc que chacun (ou chacune) d'eux (d'elles) en porte au moins deux. Je ne connais pas la règle, sans doute, un gentil professeur de français passera par là et te la donnera tout à l'heure. Je me fie à l'usage.
You haven't really answered the question and I'm not sure why you're being up-voted. The examples you cite (shoes, glasses) are "plural singulars" in English, whereas "robes" is not - "robes" is always plural; and at the end you call for someone who teaches French to respond in any event.
This has been already explained a number of times on sentence discussions threads.
In French a plural subject can have a singular object with the meaning of "one each" or, like in English, the meaning of "one shared".
- les juges ont une robe noire = each judge has his/her own robe
- mes parents ont une voiture = my parents share the property of one car
The other way around, a systematic plural object does not tell us whether each of the subjects has one or several objects. But common sense can help.
- they turn their heads = ils tournent la tête.
Can I add a follow-up question? If "Les juges portent une robe noire" means each judge wears one black robe, does "Les juges portent des robes noires" imply each judge wears more than one black robe?
No, it's always ambiguous (grammatically).
"Tous nos amis ont des chiens" can either mean that every friend has at least one dog, or that every friend has at least two dogs. Conversely, "tous nos amis vivent dans une maison" could either mean that every friend lives in a house, or that every friend lives in the very same house.
Common sense will tell you which is the correct one pretty much every time.
Is it weird that whenever I find out about these sorts of things in other languages, I wonder how they might be used for riddles, puzzles and jokes?
I wonder if there's a collection of ambiguities like this that are specific to certain languages, with examples of how they can be used with interesting results.
Yes exactly, it's a quirk of French grammar which DuoLingo expects you to know. I say quirk in italic, because I had the exact reverse problem for English, I used to say "The judges wear a black robe". Anyway, both are correct, but they don't exactly mean the same thing.
Les juges portent une robe noire means that each one wears a robe, and it implies that the robes are of the same kind.
Les juges portent des robes noires means that each one wears many robes, or that the two robes are different (for instance, one judge wears a long black robe and the other wears a short black robe).