The ending of the first line of the first paragraph in the newspaper article titled さくら市の歩み一冊に reads

... さくら市の記念誌を文星芸大(宇都宮市)のデザイン専攻の学生たちが制作した。

My understanding is that that means:
The students who majored in design at Bunsei University made a commemorative book about Sakura City.

What is gained by saying "学生たち" instead of just "学生"? Can't "学生" be plural without the "たち"?

If I were to re-arrange the sentence as such:


would it then be ok to replace "学生たち" with just "学生"?

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    To me, it would sound like one singular student if it were just 学生. – istrasci Mar 26 '15 at 22:47
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    @istrasci But isn't Japanese all about context? Isn't it implied that a group of students did it? Reading it to mean "some unnamed student did it" would seem strange to me. – red shoe Mar 26 '15 at 23:07
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    I agree with @istrasci, the default interpretation without たち is just one student. There's also the question of whether it was all the design majors, or just some of them. My default reading of the given sentence is that it's all of them. – dainichi Mar 27 '15 at 0:04
  • Completely disagree with istrasci and dainichi. Posted an answer. – l'électeur Mar 27 '15 at 0:34

I am going to say that is mainly because it was newspaper article writing, which is expected to be rather precise by the general public. It is just not written the same way we speak.

Even if 「たち」 had not been used, well over 90% of the readers would have understood it to be plural from the context. 90%, however, is not a good enough number for a newspaper.

"What is gained by saying "学生たち" instead of just "学生"?"

That remaining 10% that I mentioned above. In addition, the publisher only gains if the articles are written in professional manners.

"Can't "学生" be plural without the "たち"?"

Sure can. It is just y'all J-learners who often talk about "singular vs. plural", not us J-speakers.

In my case, I did not even know the words 「[単数]{たんすう}= "singular"」 and 「[複数]{ふくすう}= "plural"」 until I started learning English in junior high school. I am pretty sure most other J-speakers were like that as kids.

"If I were to re-arrange the sentence as such:


would it then be ok to replace "学生たち" with just "学生"?"

It would be more than just O.K. if it were another type of writing such as an email to a friend, but in a newspaper article, most people would expect 「たち」 to be there as we have discussed.

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If it were 学生 without たち in the first sentence, I would probably interpret it as a single student, until "専門スタッフ3人と学生約20人" in the middle of the article. At that point, I would notice the ambiguity and probably think the article is poorly-written.

I assume a 68-page book can be designed by a single college student who majors in design, so the plurality was not obvious to me by context. If there are more than one student, I expect the writer to include at least one clue that indicates that fact. Of course, たち is not necessary at all, as long as there is something else which implies the plurality, such as 全員で or 共同で.

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Although in some contexts 学生 can be plural (in fact the way you propose to change the sentence MAY be read that way), as both @istrasci and @dainichi stated, it could lead to confusion as it could mean either one or many students. Adding the たち confirms that it refers to more that one student and removes this ambiguity.

  • デザイン専攻の学生が記念誌を作成した。
    • The design student(s) created a memorial magazine.
  • デザイン専攻の学生たちが記念誌を作成した。
    • The design students created a memorial magazine.
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    +1 I think confusion best describes this situation -- I believe the majority of the Japanese interpret "学生が記念誌を作成した" as neither singular nor plural. When asked, one might say it can be plural because memorial magazines are usually created by more than one people; another might say s/he imagines it to be singular because デザイン専攻の sounds specific or because it doesn't explicitly state otherwise, or whatever reasons they have. – Yosh Mar 27 '15 at 12:12
  • Yes, and even the singular/plural distinction in English doesn't provide a lot of information: Ask somebody "how many students?" and you might get 3, 6, 15,... as an answer from different people. What so special about 1 vs. 2+ that it gets a special grammatical treatment? – blutorange Mar 30 '15 at 15:50

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