By lost123


2012-12-22 17:49:40 8 Comments

I found on englishplus (accessed on 23 Dec 2012) that the phrase 'kind of animal' refers to a category of animal.

If you are using an expression like kind of, sort of, type of, or variety of, then you are putting the person or thing you describe into a category. Therefore, such expressions should not apply to one specific individual of the type.

Incorrect: He is the kind of leader we need.
(You are referring to a specific person in the subject and to a category in the predicate.)

Correct: He is like the kind of leader we need.
(You are referring to a category, and he is an example of someone in the category.)

The confusion I have is that I feel now it is inappropriate to say “Spot is a kind of dog” (where Spot is a proper noun and the name of a certain dog). Instead, one should say “Spot belongs to a kind of dog” or “Spot is of a kind of dog”. The idea that “Spot is a kind of dog” is incorrect follows from “He is like the kind of leader we need” being said correct by the above reference.

Then, I referred to the OALD. Its first sense for the noun form is: “a group of people or things that are the same in some way...”. To me it seems to validate the explanation at englishplus.com. But then it gives the following examples, among others:

  1. The school is the first of its kind ...
  2. They sell all kinds of things.

(1) seems to match with the theory that kind is a group.
(2) seems to suggest that kind is not a category but perhaps a common noun – since it is 'sell'able.

In the kind of animal phrase, I assume that of animal is a prepositional phrase acting as a qualifier of the noun kind used to select the kind required. Therefore to say that I am referring to a category of animals, I use the phrase kind of animal and then to show that T is an animal of this category, I say: “T is an animal of a {kind of animal}” (ie, T is an animal of a kind of animal). Now, I have never come across such a sentence in my life. Please help me understand the source of the confusion and the correct usage of the word kind, whether as an idiom or by proper grammar.

2 comments

@John Lawler 2012-12-22 19:10:40

Kind means type, among other things. Here's a chart of the PIE root *ɡenə- (from which all senses of kind come, including the one that means gentle).

(Note, parenthetically, that words for ruling classes develop good meanings in time, whereas words for commoners -- like mean and common, say -- don't.)

However, the fact that kind means type doesn't affect the grammar of the two words. Being a kind is a predicate, by itself, and kind (or, for that matter, type) should not be thought of as sets to which things "belong". That's unnecessary complication.

There are idioms like kind of /'kayndə/ (He's kind of shy). Type of doesn't work here: *He's type of shy. But they do both work in constructions like

  • What kind/type of idiot would do that?

though kind is more idiomatic and type is more formal here.

@FumbleFingers 2012-12-22 23:12:44

I feel in my waters that you can't "belong" to a type or kind, but I can't see why that is so, given you can definitely belong to a species. Is it just that kinds and types aren't "formal category sets" that have ways of defining their members?

@John Lawler 2012-12-23 00:40:23

Not ISO ways, anyways. Quantifiers and qualifiers are always strange grammatically; they get used so often they're half-frozen into a lot of idioms and habitual frames. So succeeding generations get their own ideas about how they're organized, and language changes again.

@lost123 2012-12-23 15:57:34

I have edited the question to clarify/correct the source of my doubt. Please see the question again.

@John Lawler 2012-12-23 17:16:07

I think I see the problem. You are assuming that of animal modifies a head noun kind, and therefore that animal qualifies kind. That's backwards; it may once have had that structure, but nowadays (a/the) kind of is the qualifier and it modifies animal, not the other way around. Like gonna, wanna, hafta, useta and their ilk.

@lost123 2012-12-24 04:58:58

Thanks John. It's interesting to see this. In my school days I read a book called 'High School English Grammar and Composition' by Wren and Martin. And based on that book, I always considered that the preposition 'of' begins a prepostional phrase linking the noun 'animal' to the antecedent - 'kind'. Its enlightening to realize that 'kind of' has perhaps become an adjective now! I need to ask you another favour. It seems my grammar has gone out of date, therefore, can you please suggest me a good contemporary grammar book for a quick reading and another for a bit thorough reference.

@John Lawler 2012-12-24 17:48:50

For thorough reference, McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English. For a quick reading, though, I really don't know anything I'd recommend. Almost everything taught in Anglophone schools about English grammar is either misleading, wrong, or downright bullshit, and nobody writes short books on grammar for any audience except students.

@tchrist 2012-12-22 18:08:35

The noun kind means simply type. Per the OED, it can amongst other things mean:

  • The character or quality derived from birth or native constitution; natural disposition, nature.
  • Character as determining the class to which a thing belongs (cf. sense 13); generic or specific nature or quality; esp. in phr. in kind
  • A race, or a natural group of animals or plants having a common origin

It is very closely related to the noun kin, and forms part of the word mankind.

Strangely, it appears to have no cognates in other languages outside of English.

@gmcgath 2012-12-22 18:24:29

My dictionary says "kin" is "akin to OHG chunni (race), Latin genus."

@tchrist 2012-12-22 18:36:02

@gmcpath It is kind that has no apparent cognates outside English.

@StoneyB 2012-12-22 21:35:36

I think all OED and Etymonline mean is that this is there is no cognate which descends through a form suffixed ge- as kind does. But a step farther back and many Greek and Latin forms in gen-, gon-, -gn-, germen- (and of course their Romance descendants) are cognate, as well as such German words as Kind and König.

@lost123 2012-12-23 15:58:19

I have edited the question to clarify the source of my doubt. Please see the question again.

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