a + adjective + uncountable nouns

< Previous | Next >

zaffy

Senior Member
Polish
This is something I can't comprehend. Why, frequently or almost always, uncountable nouns become countable if they are modified by an adjective?

There was fire everywhere.
There was a fierce fire everywhere.
 
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Uncountable nouns become countable when there are different kinds.
    What waters do you have? - Vichy Catalan and Highland Spring.
    If fire can be fierce, it can also be less fierce - so there are different kinds.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    How about these:

    -seek justice.
    -seek a divine justice. ??? I don't think 'a' works here and isn't it a different kind?
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    seek a divine justice. ??? I don't think 'a' works here
    I would say it is correct.

    "A/an" means "an example of"

    An <adjective> uncountable noun = An example of uncountable noun that is adjective.
    A French wine...............................An example of wine that is French.

    Obviously the use of this construction is limited by which adjectives are applicable to the noun and whether the noun is capable of being countable. I think you can just about say that justice can be countable:

    Judge: "The court has found you guilty! You will go to prison for 20 years."
    Prisoner: "This is not divine justice! My god has forgiven me."
    Judge: "You have received earthly justice, but now you have 20 years in which to find a divine justice."
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Yes, it works in that context because it is compared to 'earthly justice'. That said "You have received earthly justice, but now you have 20 years in which to find a divine justice" sounds fine to me.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Yes - it is usually a question of whether the noun can be countable or if it is strongly uncountable:

    Let me give you a good advice. :thumbsdown:
    There is good advice and there is bad advice - in fact there are lot of advices.:D

    Justice is "on the cusp" of uncountability.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Here wind also becomes countable in the second sentence?

    -One could feel wind coming from the west.
    -One could feel a strong win coming from the west.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Why, frequently or almost always, uncountable nouns become countable if they are modified by an adjective?

    There was fire everywhere.
    There was a fierce fire everywhere.
    I think you are seeing a pattern that does not exist. Your "frequently" might just be the things you happened to read that you remember. This pattern is not true in English (in my opinion). For example:

    There was fire everywhere.:tick:
    There was fierce fire everywhere.:tick:

    There was a fire in the fireplace.:tick:
    There was a roaring fire in the fireplace.:tick:
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Here wind also becomes countable in the second sentence?

    -One could feel wind coming from the west.
    -One could feel a strong win coming from the west.
    It isn't the adjective: it is "a", which is a determiner:

    -One could feel wind coming from the west.:tick:
    -One could feel a wind coming from the west.:tick:

    We use determiners with countable nouns, but not with uncountable ones. In fact, we turn uncountable nouns into countables by adding determiners (not by adding adjectives).

    Articles ("a/an/the") are determiners. So are "that/those/these", possessives ("my/her"), numbers, quantity words (some, many), and a few other words.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    The first sentence uses uncountable "wind" and the second uses countable "a wind". Why shouldn't they both be correct?

    I was giving you examples that show we use adjectives with uncountable nouns too. There is no rule that says "only use adjectives with countable nouns".
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I have difficulty understanding "There was a fierce fire everywhere".

    There's fire all around us. We're surrounded by fire. There's fire everywhere. (We are surrounded by a substance called fire. I don't have any idea in my mind of the boundaries of this fire.)

    There's a fire raging all around us.
    (We are surrounded by a fire, which I imagine as having discrete boundaries, even though they may be changing as the fire progresses.)
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I think you are seeing a pattern that does not exist.
    Possibly, but I often come across sentences where uncountable nouns become countable only because they have been modified by an adjective. Another example:

    -I had breakfast and left for work.
    -I had a light breakfast and left for work
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Uncountable nouns describe the set of objects that belong to an homogeneous group. -> breakfast -> the concept of the meal that is distinguished by being taken at the start of a day.
    If the members of that group can be sub-categorised then they become countable: A <insert adjective> breakfast is one breakfast from all breakfasts - it is an example of one type of breakfast.

    This is not true of strongly uncountable nouns.

    This is guidance :tick:
    This is good guidance:tick:
    This is a good guidance.:cross:
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    If the members of that group can be sub-categorised then they become countable.

    This is not true of strongly uncountable nouns.

    This is guidance :tick:
    This is good guidance:tick:
    This is a good guidance.:cross:
    And that's why I started this thread. This is one of the most difficult things for ESL students. There is no way we can feel it.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Nevertheless, you are fortunate: there are very few strongly uncountable nouns - i.e. those which cannot be prefaced by "a/an".

    In general terms uncountable nouns are
    (i) basic substances - elemental, if you will - iron, wood, coffee, dust,
    or
    (ii) concepts/intangibles: heat, sorrow, nostalgia, etc.

    Uncountable nouns resemble adjectives:

    The sword was steel <- here it is hard to distinguish if "steel" is an uncountable noun or an adjective
    (The sword was wood/wooden <- uncountable noun/adjective.)
    The sword was of steel <- here steel is clearly an uncountable noun. Preposition + noun = modifier -> of + steel = adjectival modifier.
    It was a steel sword <- here steel is clearly an adjective.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top