a piece of information: countable nouns

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by LV4-26, Aug 25, 2005.

  1. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Hello there,

    I was wondering about this phenomenon which seems to be very specific of the English language.
    I mean the existence of these words that behave as non countables and actually refer to a gathering of countable items. For that reason, these nouns are rarely (if at all) in the plural and need to be preceeded by "a piece of" when you want to refer to individual items.

    I have three queries :
    1. Could you help me continue the following list :
    - a piece of information
    - a piece of advice
    - a piece of luggage

    2. I don't know how to name this kind of nouns so my first idea is to call them "pseudo non countables". Do you know their "official" name, provided they have one ?

    3. J'ai dit que ce phénomène était propre à l'anglais. Mais je me demandais si le français n'avait pas l'équivalent dans le langage familier. Mon idée est la suivante : cet usage étant clairement considéré comme "transgressif" en français ordinaire, il se réfugie dans le langage populaire. Je pense à des tournures du genre :
    - Donne-moi de l'info
    - ça, c'est de la bagnole !
    Je n'en ai pas d'autre en tête pour le moment, mais je suis persuadé que les exemples sont beaucoup plus nombreux.
    Pensez-vous que ce parallèle soit abusif ?

    Thanks a lot in advance for your ideas.

    EDIT : Bien sûr, la liste des mots anglais appartenant à cette catégorie est clairement fermée. Alors qu'elle l'est "moins" dans le français populaire.
  2. Agnès E.

    Agnès E. Senior Member

    France, French
    - a piece of furniture

    2. Je suis incapable de t'aider sur cette question...

    3. Hum. Je ne trouve pas qu'il s'agisse là d'un parallèle, puisque ni info ni bagnole ne requièrent un usage particulier, ce qui est le cas des termes anglais de ta liste. Mais je suis bien en peine de trouver une autre idée ! :D
  3. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Merci Agnes, je l'avais oublié, celui-là.
    PS : je réfléchis à ton objection concernant la question n°3. Objection que j'avais vaguement entrevue dans mon "EDIT".
  4. Agnès E.

    Agnès E. Senior Member

    France, French
    a piece of news ? ?????
  5. charlie2 Senior Member

    I think we do say in English "a piece of evidence" and "a piece of music", or perhaps even "a piece of work".
  6. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    He he. Precisely....Are "a piece of music" or "a piece of work" to be considered as belonging to the same category as "a piece of evidence" ?
    I feel that evidence can be added to my list while music and work can't....

    ...But you're probably right. My problem may be that I'm influenced by the French language here. I mean the use of "a piece of evidence" or "a piece of furniture" is specifically English (I mean it doesn't fit into French logic) while a piece of music can find its direct equivalent in French.
  7. Amityville

    Amityville Senior Member

    English UK
    "A piece of my mind" - (not the same at all)
  8. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    The more I think of it the more I feel I was right to ask this question here rather than in the English only forum.
    I suspect this has to do with a difference of logic between French and English.
    For us, un renseignement, un conseil, un bagage, un meuble, une preuve can only be individual countable items. Whereas the English equivalents seem to have the same status as words like music or work or.....pork, butter (?).
    I mean I first thought these words had a particular grammatical behaviour. Now I begin to realize they are also logically (semantically) different to their French equivalents.
    Still, while I can easily understand why information, advice, evidence can be considered as a whole, I still have some difficulties with words like luggage and furniture.

    EDIT : no more difficulties with "furniture". After wall, we've got le mobilier in French.

    Désolé. Je crois qu'il s'agit encore d'un de ces faux problèmes que j'ai coutume de soulever. En ce qui me concerne, la question est résolue....:) :eek:
  9. Strider Senior Member

    England, English
    There's also the problem in English of words that can be both countable and uncountable.

    Example : There are 3 rooms in my apartment / There isn't much room in my apartment.

    Other words in this category include noise, glass and business.

    A good Grammar book will help you. I can recommend 'Business Grammar Builder' by Paul Emmerson.
  10. Jean-Michel Carrère Senior Member

    French from France
    une poterie : a piece of pottery
    un toast : a piece of toast
    une craie : a piece of chalk
    une espièglerie : a piece of mischief
    une ficelle : a piece of string
  11. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    The article, along with piece of, is often eliminated entirely:
    Would you like toast?
    I just bought furniture.
    I tied it with string.
    I need information about...

    After a quick (not thorough) check, I think that may work for all of the examples so far, as long as the actual quantity of each item is not really significant. Some may be inserted into these examples, as with the French de that you said is not strictly correct here.
  12. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    But then
    1. I just bought a piece of furnitures
    2. I just bought furniture

    Do 1 and 2 mean exactly the same ?
    I have the impression that 1. can only refer to, say, a desk...
    whereas 2. can refer to a desk + a table + a cupboard, for instance*. Am I wrong ?

    Thanks everybody. (Thks JMC, those are the kind of examples I was searching for in the first place : words behaving differently in French and in English).

    And, btw, we do say un bout de ficelle and even de la ficelle.
    Je l'ai attaché avec un bout de ficelle
    Je l'ai attaché avec de la ficelle
    (and I don't think these are low-register examples - one more minus to my theory ;) ).

    * (you know, when you've spent the afternoon raiding Ikea :D )
  13. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    You are correct about the different meanings of your 1 & 2, which is what I meant by as long as the actual quantity of each item is not really significant. You might say #2 in response to How was your shopping trip?
  14. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Oops! This will teach me to read posts more carefully.

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