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Uncountable use of music instrument

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Golf Variant, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. Golf Variant New Member

    Japanese
    I am a Japanese learner of English language.

    Can we use a music instrument as an uncountable noun?
    If it is possible, please tell me what sort of contexts we can use it.

    Thank you.
     
  2. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    Please give us a sentence as an example and we'll do our best to help. Thank you.

    (Hint: It's up to you to provide contexts for us. :))
     
  3. Golf Variant New Member

    Japanese
    an example context:

    We can communicate one another by music instrument in case we get lost in the woods.
     
  4. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    Thank you.

    Yes, you can certainly use: We can communicate one another by music instrument in case we get lost in the woods.

    Just as you can use: We can travel by car to New York.

    But these are not considered "uncountable nouns," as the "car" example shows.

    Welcome to the forum. :)
     
  5. Golf Variant New Member

    Japanese
    Thank you for your comments, Copyright.

    Yes, "car" and "music instrument" are not uncountable nouns.
    Rather I would like to know the possibility of uncountable use of countable nouns in the context cited above.

    Since I am not a native speaker of English, I do not have native intuition regarding countable or uncountable use of nouns in certain context.
    I really appreciate your quick reply.
     
  6. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    "...by musical instrument" is a short way of saying "by means of a musical instrument" (countable). It's the same as "by telephone" (by means of the telephone).
     
  7. Golf Variant New Member

    Japanese
    Thank you for your comment, Velisarius.
    The explanation that the form of "by+countable noun" is a short way of saying "by means of a musical instrument" (countable) makes me aware of that every English phrase has its unique meaning as Dweight Bolinger, a famous linguist of US, laid stress on forms and meaning.
     
  8. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London
    English - England
    While most nouns are either mainly countable or mainly uncountable, I think that practically any noun can be used countably or uncountably. This is because countability has a semantic function as well as a grammatical function. Like radio or a radio, musical instrument or a musical instrument can be a countable item or an uncountable medium, and the use of the word by is irrelevant to this.
    They communicated by radio. Radio was an efficient way of communicating. They listened to the broadcasts on their radios.
    They communicated by carrier pigeon. Carrier pigeon was the best way of communicating. They sent messages attached to carrier pigeons.
    They communicated by musical instrument. Musical instrument was the best way of communicating. Didgeridoos successfully surmounted the language barrier.
     
  9. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    I don't believe this use of "by" entails making the noun uncountable. Compare the sentences:

    1.We can communicate by telephone. We can communicate by means of the/a telephone. Countable.

    2.Man cannot live by bread alone. Man cannot live by means of bread alone. Uncountable.

    A noun doesn't become uncountable just because you omit the article. The sentence "Radio was an efficient way of communicating" can also be expressed as "A/The radio was an efficient way of communicating".

    "Man cannot live by bread alone" cannot be expressed as "Man cannot live by the bread alone" without changing the meaning. In fact I found it very difficult to find an example of this construction with "by", using an uncountable noun.
     
  10. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London
    English - England
    But don’t you agree that the word radio has two quite different meanings?
    1) A means of communication involving transforming sounds into electromagnetic waves and then vice versa, and
    2) A bit of kit for performing the second part of the operation described in 1).
    And is it not true that we NEVER say a radio or radios in respect of sense 1)? (We commonly use the with uncountable nouns - The unbearable lightness of being).
    I conclude from these facts that radio has an uncountable sense.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2012
  11. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    Hi teddy,
    So you mean "radio" as an abstract noun. If it's considered in your sense 1. to be an abstract noun, then it could be uncountable I suppose. "Lightness" is an abstract uncountable noun I think.

    I don't concede that "carrier-pigeon" and "musical instrument" are abstract nouns though; I think they're common or garden countable nouns used in a particular way that I explained in my earlier post.
     

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