Jul 9th, 2015, 02:40 am
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Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
| | Re: countable and uncountable nouns exception
It's not so much that nouns are countable or uncountable, but that they can be used countably or uncountably.
If I see something as a mass, then I'll choose to refer to it as an uncountable single unit. If I see one or more single units, then I'll choose to refer to it countably.
For example :
I drink a lot of tea. - Here I'm referring to the liquid in general - so I use it uncountably. But...
My three favourite teas are English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Darjeeling. Here I'm talking about different types of tea and use it countably.
I like horses. I'm using it countably as I mean all and any example of the animal. But...
You smell of horse! - here it's used uncountably. It's not the individual animal I'm taking about but the general concept.
There are various grammatical differences between countable and uncountable use :
a) As you say, you can't use the indefinite article - it wouldn't make sense : a/an = one and the whole point of uncountability is that you're not seeing the thing as one, two, three etc individual objects. So in your example willingness is being used countably - the speaker is not talking about willingness in general but in one individual situation. You don't give the context but here's an extended example which clarifies it :
The company has shown a willingness to act to rectify the damage. They have not, however, demonstrated a willingness to provide compensation.
b) For the same reason as above, nouns used countably can't be plural and are used with singular verbs : Tea is my favourite drink vs My three favourite teas are English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Darjeeling.
c) Different quantifiers are used - eg much and many. Much is usedwhen the noun is used uncountably - He doesn't have much hope of passing the exam - but many is used when the noun is used countably: When he was younger he had so many hopes and dreams.
Lots of nouns are much more often used countably than uncountably, or vice versa, because of the contexts in which they are used, and this has given rise to the over-simplification that they "are" uncountable or countable. But as the examples above show, given a suitable context any noun can potentially be used either way - it depends on how the speaker/writer sees the concept. And it's the grammar which shows you how the noun is being used.
So - no exceptions. Just a different choice of meaning and therefore grammar on the part of the speaker/writer.