https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

"They wore their hats" Question

In the Compound Past 1 lesson, the solution for this is shown as "Ils ont porté leur chapeau".

Is this idiomatic? Why is it not "Ils ont porté leurs chapeaux"?

Just curious.

Sunday, Monday, Happy days to all.

August 4, 2018

20 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Heike333145

This is an interesting question! It was discussed some time ago. https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/778188/They-wore-their-hats

It seems to be a different way of perceiving matters. If you say "porté leurs chapeaux", the French would assume that each person wears several hats. (But it's funny: The "correct sentence" above that discussion says "leurs chapeaux"! Now I'm confused again ....)

This seems to sum it up well (posted by CJ.Dennis in that thread):

It would be very rare for someone to wear more than one hat at a time, so the sentence is talking about one hat per person. In English we use the plural "hats". In French we should prescriptively use the singular « chapeau », but most French people actually use the plural « chapeaux », so it is accepted too (descriptive usage).

Remember: rules exist to describe usage first, and only then to teach. When actual usage changes, the rules must change to follow suit.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LeeBrownst1

There was an analogous discussion about "leur manteau". See "https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/26731374".

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

Apologies for my redundancy. Have a lingot..

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Heike333145

No problem. :-) The drive for extensive sleuthing is a déformation professionelle of mine. ;-) Thanks for the lingot!

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RMahome

The thought of someone wearing more than one hat at a time made me laugh.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

Many thanks to all who have helped clarify this. You learn something new every day, and I am ENDLESSLY fascinated by the intricacies of languages. So cool.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Heike333145

I am ENDLESSLY fascinated by the intricacies of languages. So cool.

My sentiments entirely. I may feel a little uneasy at first when I discover that at some points there simply are no clear-cut rules (just think of "the majority of the people is/are ..." in English, for example). In a way, this can be disheartening for a learner: "What am I supposed to say or write??"

But then I think that languages are alive, and when I see this kind of ambiguity, I think that I'm right at that moment watching the language while it is evolving further. Very cool indeed, and the internet helps us keep in touch with the discussions among the native speakers of our languages.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Camilla-danesa

well said!

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LeeBrownst1

Consider the length of the OED. Just learning one's own native language is an inexhaustible endeavor.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

Here's an obscure reference: In "The Day After Tomorrow", I would have saved the OED before the Gutenberg Bible...

:-)

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/relox84

When multiple people each own one instance of the same object, it's possible in French to use the singular form of the noun: "Les hommes ont porté leur chapeau" basically means "Each man wore his own hat", but the plural form is correct as well. Ultimately it's just a spelling convention, as "leur chapeau" and "leurs chapeaux" are pronounced exactly the same.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

Merci.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/angus390025

I've noticed these sorts of things in the Spanish and French courses. Recently in a Spanish exercise, I had to translate, "¿Sabes la edad de tus padres?" and I thought that unless your parents were born on the same day, shouldn't it be "¿Sabes las edades de tus padres?"

Then I started looking into it. Apparently in the Romance Languages it's correct to say "the thing" (as opposed to "the things") when talking about groups of people who each have only one of a thing.

In Portuguese, they take off their hats is generally said "eles tiram o chapéu" and not "eles tiram seus chapéus"

On the other hand, these do not seem to be universally-accepted conventions within any Romance Language. You'll find plenty of references to "leurs enfants" and "sus cosas" and the like. So it's inconsistent, at best. Maybe there is a subtle rule for when to say "their thing" vs "their things" but I have not found such an explantion on duolingo.

August 4, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kirakrakra

It is the same in Swedish: many people wear A, that they wear A:s means that everybody wear many A:s. I suppose it is the same in the other northern languages. How is it in German?

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/angus390025

Interesting. It has been a long time since I lived in Germany and my german is a little rusty. In English, we should say, "they wear their hats," but people often get lazy and just say, "they wear their hat." If it happens often enough, it becomes the new normal. I suspect that this evolution has already occurred in other languages.

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Heike333145

I think in German you can phrase it either way:

Alle Leute setzen ihre Hüte auf.
Alle Leute setzen ihren Hut auf.

Both sentences sound natural to me and create the same image in my mind: A group of people who each grab one hat and put that head on their own head.

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/piguy3

That’s a particular brand of laziness I don’t think I’ve encountered! I think I would envision the funny seen of a group of folks closely clustered under a very large hat :)

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

I'm a big fan of John McWhorter and Steven Pinker. "Rules" of language are as often properly descriptive as they are proscriptive.

The child asks "Why [...]?" And the parent will occasionally answer "Because."

Many of the questions I see on this forum, indeed, many of the questions I myself want to ask, could be completely and adequately answered by the parent's answer: "BECAUSE!"

Sure, there are linguistic explanations for some things, for many things, but in some cases, it's just the way the cookie crumbles, that's just how they talk.

Language learning got a whole lot easier for me when I - in those cases - just gave in and let my brain try to work in that way. It's like something gave, I let out a sigh, my synapses relaxed, and BOOM - Es geht mir gut. I mean ça va bien.

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/piguy3

Many of the questions I see on this forum, indeed, many of the questions I myself want to ask, could be completely and adequately answered by the parent's answer: "BECAUSE!"

So, so true.

Grammar rules don't precede languages. The vast majority of what we call "rules" are distillations of language-as-used (combined with a sprinkling of prescriptivist ideas about what somebody sometime wished people would use). It just so happens some aspects of language-as-used are quite commonly shared indeed, so it is useful to apply fancy names to them like "subjunctive mood," "imperfect," "grammatical gender," and whatnot.

August 5, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bryanlouiselle

Yes, yes, piguy3.

That said, I'm in no way arguing against descriptive grammar instruction. In many, many, cases, it is a supportive aid, a guide to help sort the wheat from the chaff.

Indeed, reading about the vicissitudes of German dative articles, or why Italians omit articles in front of family members unless of course they are plural in which case you need them, or how the French ever figure out who is missing whom or what, and so on, has helped immeasurably.

But sometimes, you just gotta go with the lingual flow and let the language wash over you, drag you with its tide from the safety of your native-language-beach, and nearly drown you in its inexplicable gorgeous complexity.

It's the assorted weirdness that makes this whole adventure worthwhile.

I certainly don't envy those trying to make sense of English - that king of linguistic borrowers - for example.

Best to all, always.

August 5, 2018
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