Countable, uncountable: advice, bread, cabbage, hair, onions

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  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Or this one:
    non-count nouns :)

    I suppose it is a bit trite, but things you can easily count are countable.
    So from your list, onions and cabbages clearly are countable.
    Advice is clearly uncountable.
    Bread and hair can be either depending on context. They are often uncountable, but the different breads in the specialist shop are countable and the hairs the cat leaves on the furniture are grammatically countable even though you could never actually count them.

    Now that seemed easy.
    Trouble is that when the onions and cabbages are cooked, they may become uncountable.
    Would you like some onion and cabbage with your potatoes.
    Ah yes, and those potatoes - were they mashed (uncountable) or served whole (countable).

    Perhaps in those threads you will find something that helps explain all of this.

    Feel free to ask for clarification.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have read all the posts but not the links from them, and would say that a lot of this is a matter of convention: what seems logical in one language seems illogical in another. Students should be told that their own language is not a model for other languages and that they should therefore expect to find the target language strange.
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    sound shift, is it the rules themselves that seem illogical, or the fact that some words that are noncount in one language (e.g., research in English) are countable in other languages? My impression is the latter, in which case students certainly do need to understand that countability varies by language. This can be very confusing! :eek:

    Elisabetta
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    It certainly can be very confusing! "countability" as well as which "prepositions" to go with which words to form different meanings/mean different things under different contexts and that's why we're here. :)

    Few things to add and correct me if I'm wrong.

    uncountable nouns:

    time
    money/cash
    trash/rubbish/garbage/waste
    bacon/bread/dough
    mail(=letters)
    news

    I bet there are a bunch more but those are the ones that popped up my mind.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    sound shift, is it the rules themselves that seem illogical, or the fact that some words that are noncount in one language (e.g., research in English) are countable in other languages? My impression is the latter, in which case students certainly do need to understand that countability varies by language. This can be very confusing! :eek:

    Elisabetta
    Elisabetta,

    I think it is a bit of both. Some Turks told me that it is illogical to be able to count grapes, as we can in English, because there is never a need to say "one grape, two grapes, etc." (in Turkish there is a "mass noun" - I think that is the term - for grapes). I agree that confusion (research/recherches, information (Eng, noncount) vs informations (Fr, count), etc.) is also a factor.
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    I think it is a bit of both. Some Turks told me that it is illogical to be able to count grapes, as we can in English, because there is never a need to say "one grape, two grapes, etc."
    I could show them some chicken salad recipes that would beg to differ. ;) But I understand the point. Language develops in response to communication needs.

    Elisabetta
     

    daenpego

    New Member
    spanish
    Guys, in my teaching experience I have noticed that it is extremely necessary to have a BIG list of countable and uncountable nouns
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Guys, in my teaching experience I have noticed that it is extremely necessary to have a BIG list of countable and uncountable nouns
    That is undoubtedly true in a teaching situation, but not at WordReference. ;) Questions or replies that are simply lists are not allowed.

    Thanks,
    Nun-Translator
    moderator
     

    BantyMom

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    As a general rule, if you can make a plural out of it, or, even easier, if you can put a number in front of it (that fits in the context of what you are talking about), it's countable.

    Of course, you students would have to be pretty good at making the plural for this to work, but if you are working on less vs fewer, which is usually why you need to know what nouns are countable, they should be past plurals.

    "I'd like 3 cash" vx "I'd like 3 dollars"

    It doesn't solve every question, and some, like deer and fish, are more tricky because they don't change in the plural, but then you only have to make a list of the odd ones for your class.
     

    daenpego

    New Member
    spanish
    That is undoubtedly true in a teaching situation, but not at WordReference. ;) Questions or replies that are simply lists are not allowed.

    Thanks,
    Nun-Translator
    moderator
    Thanks for your advice.. you know, I'm new here so I don't know exactly how does this works.. but well... ;) thanks !!!

    As a general rule, if you can make a plural out of it, or, even easier, if you can put a number in front of it (that fits in the context of what you are talking about), it's countable.

    Of course, you students would have to be pretty good at making the plural for this to work, but if you are working on less vs fewer, which is usually why you need to know what nouns are countable, they should be past plurals.

    "I'd like 3 cash" vx "I'd like 3 dollars"

    It doesn't solve every question, and some, like deer and fish, are more tricky because they don't change in the plural, but then you only have to make a list of the odd ones for your class.
    Thanks for yor advice.. but I don't know if you can notice that I'm not an English native speaker, so those rules might seem esay for you, but.....
    well, in any case Thanks for your advice !!!!
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    Hi,

    I think there might be something like a feeling/sense of "uncountability" that governs real words in which you see varieties of word-groups such as

    1.water-oil-tea-money-cash-time
    2.machinery-furniture-trash-rubbish-garbage-waste
    3.advice-information-news
    4.
    5.
    .
    .
    .

    I think it would be logical for almost all non-English-speakers to say group1(water) and group2(machinery) are uncoutable because group1 represents unit-words and group2 set-words.

    The most difficult one for us is group3(advice). I wonder what makes you feel they are uncountable when 'suggestion' could be both countable and uncountable.

    What kind of difference do you see between countable 'suggestion' and uncountable 'suggestion'?

    If I could see the reason, I think I would become a bit more fluent knowing why news and its group are uncountable.

    Thanks in advance.
     
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    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    taked4700, one gives/receives advice, not advices. One obtains/imparts information, not informations. One can publish multiple items of news, but whether it's one item or multiple, we use the word news (not new or newses) to refer to it.

    Suggestion is different. I can give you one suggestion or multiple suggestions.

    Perhaps it simply comes down to a matter of learning which English language nouns can be made plural and which cannot rather than trying to reason it out in some fashion.

    Elisabetta
     

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    Thank you, Elisabetta.

    I just would have liked to know if native English-speakers have noticed the reason why news is uncountable where you explain to us time and water are uncountable because they are unit-words.

    I can see what you say. I agree your point of view is right.

    So, it could be a nice try to let me ask you whether the next sentence is idiomatic or not.

    I don't know what to wear tonight. Do you have any suggestion?

    Should I use 'suggestions'?


    Thanks in advance.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Do you have a suggestion? Do you have any suggestions?

    Suggestion is nearly always a count noun!

    Most non-count nouns seem to be naming the concept of something rather than trying to enumerate or quantify. For many, we must add that quantity sense with a "counter" type word. Paper is non-count so we must use "piece of paper" or "sheet of paper" or "ten pounds of paper".

    A corresponding problem arises in your native tongue, taked - it is hard for someone learning it to know which counter to use for which noun - eventually, you just learn :D
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ...
    Paper is non-count so we must use "piece of paper" or "sheet of paper" or "ten pounds of paper".
    ...
    Ah yes, I must write a paper on this topic for the September conference :) That would be a countable paper.

    The power of suggestion ... non-count.

    I don't think there is any simple rule.
    If there were, it would long ago have been stated here and we wouldn't have all these many, many threads about count/non-count, countable/uncountable, collective singular/plural and so on.

    What a dull world it would be :)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Ah yes, I must write a paper on this topic for the September conference :) That would be a countable paper.
    And it would be printed on paper if published. A substantial paper might run to several sheets of paper. You might only need a few dozen of those papers to make up a pound of paper.
    The power of suggestion ... non-count.
    That was the only exception I could think of and fortunately I thought of it in time to include nearly :D
    I don't think there is any simple rule.
    That, in itself, is probably the only simple rule :D
    If there were, it would long ago have been stated here and we wouldn't have all these many, many threads about count/non-count, countable/uncountable, collective singular/plural and so on.

    What a dull world it would be :)
    Indeed!
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    ...So from your list, onions and cabbages clearly are countable.
    ...
    Trouble is that when the onions and cabbages are cooked, they may become uncountable. ...
    Not just cooked foods but prepared, e.g. chopped onions, sliced cabbage.
    Also, I would say that green onions (and similarly scallions, chives, shallots,... foodstuffs usually seen in plural form, in bunches, too small to count, ...) are sometimes uncountable even unprepared.
     

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    Thank you, all.

    As you said "I don't think there is any simple rule. That, in itself, is probably the only simple rule.",

    I have come to think in the same way.

    Thank you for your answering my questions. I would be repeatedly asking you some other questions in future even if it is not so wise to ask those questions.

    Thanks again,
    taked4700.
     
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