taxons and orthography

Thomas Lammers lammers at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU
Wed Mar 8 07:52:54 CST 2000

At 08:47 AM 3/8/00 +0100, Peter Schuchert wrote:

>English is not my mother tongue, so could you please give me some advice
>on the correct usage of articles and taxon names? Are taxon names used
>with or without articles ?
>Are taxon names used in plural or singular? In the literature I found both
>usages.  So, whhat is the correct version in the following examples:

I believe articles are a matter of taste.  Or it may hinge on a subtle
distinction.  Are you using the word (e.g., Cnidaria) in a unitary sense,
seeing the taxon as a single entity?  If so, no article sounds better.   If
you are using the word in a collective sense, seeing it as an aggregate of
many entities, an article seems appropriate.

Number, however, is definitely fixed by the grammatical nature of the
word.  Names of genera are singular nouns.  Names of species are singular
nouns with a modifier: an adjective, a genitive (possessive), or a noun in
apposition.  Suprageneric names are plural nouns or plural adjectives used
as nouns.  You will sometimes see statements such as, "Rosaceae is a family
..." but that is not good usage; "Rosaceae are ..." is preferred.
(You can, however, say "The family Rosaceae is ...", because "family" them
becomes the subject of the sentence.)  I think that when people say
"Rosaceae is ...", they are thinking of the family as a unit, and when they
say "Rosaceae are ...", they are thinking of it collectively (see comments
above).  But in this case, the grammatical nature of the word does not
allow this shift in verb number.

Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
Department of Biology and Microbiology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA

e-mail:                     lammers at
phone (office):         920-424-7085
phone (herbarium):  920-424-1002
fax:                         920-424-1101

Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and
biogeography of the Campanulaceae s. lat.
"Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
                                                 -- Anonymous

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