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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 8th, 2015, 03:03 pm
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Smile countable and uncountable nouns exception

Hi everyone,

I'm looking at the distinction between countable and uncountable nouns. The difference I came across is that countable nouns can have an indefinite article. Are there any other differences?

I noticed that there can be some nouns that are uncountable, but that can take an indefinite article.
Like for example: A willingness to act

I don't really understand these cases. Could someone explain it?

Thanks in advance for your help!
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  #2 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 9th, 2015, 01:40 am
Sue
 
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Default 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.

Similarly :
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.
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  #3 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 15th, 2015, 02:47 am
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Default Re: countable and uncountable nouns exception

Thank you susan53 for the detailed answer!
With all the examples it was really easy to understand
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Unread Aug 11th, 2015, 06:59 pm
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Default Re: countable and uncountable nouns exception

Hi there,

Here are a few examples that come to mind...

Collective nouns vs. distinct/individual/countable items:

some butter (collective noun)
many pats of butter (pats are countable, butter is not)
You can count the pats of butter but you can't count the butter.

some rain
many droplets of rain (droplets are countable, rain is not)
You can count the droplets but you can't count the rain.

Animal Groupings:

a gaggle of geese = many geese (note here that the plural of geese happens to be geese, not geeses!)

a herd of cattle = many cows*
*Farmers say, "many head of cattle" (1 cow = 1 head of cattle)

I hope this helps.

Cheers,
Jaykay

First language: English
Second language: French
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Unread Aug 16th, 2015, 03:44 pm
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Wink Re: countable and uncountable nouns exception

Thank you Jaykay for sharing the examples
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  #6 (permalink)  
Unread Aug 17th, 2015, 03:31 am
Sue
 
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Default Re: countable and uncountable nouns exception

There are lots of counter examples though - again it depends on the context and how the word is being used. All of the following are authentic examples from books and websites - just Google them if you want to see the source :
  • Seven nut and seed butters for your pantry
  • In the 2004/2005 season the rains came early but then stopped. Many farmers had to replant their cotton due to insufficient rains at planting.
  • The study presents the results of a two-year research of protozoan infections of cattles from the Northern-Bačka district (Voјvodina, Serbia). The research was conducted on cow-farms and ...
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