Indefinite article with abstract noun: <a> loathing he had never known

VicNicSor

Senior Member
Russian
Besides bringing out a certain aspect of the notion denoted by the noun the indefinite article also has a stylistic effect making a description more vivid. Therefore the use of the indefinite article with abstract nouns is characteristic of the belles lettres style:
He was filled with a loathing he had never known.
He scanned her face: it expressed a dramatic eagerness.
Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a curious glamour.

Learning to use articles by L. Barmina


"loathing", "eagerness" and "glamour" take indefinite articles because of "he had never known", "dramatic" and "curious".
This doesn't mean, however, that these nouns are becoming countable. The indefinite article here means one of kinds of loathing/eagerness/glamour, but not one of "loathings", "eagernesses" or "glamours".
Compare:

I watched an interesting movie yesterday.
I have a crazy friend

Here the indefinite articles mean one of interesting movies / crazy friends.

Is my reasoning correct?
Thank you
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It is better in my view to say that because 'loathing' is uncountable, therefore 'a loathing' means 'a kind of loathing', etc.

    'A crazy friend' simply means 'a friend who is crazy'. There need not be any other crazy friends; similarly with 'an interesting movie'.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Yes I was not clear enough.
    I didn't mean that I watched interesting movies yesterday and I'm mentioning one of them
    or
    that I have several crazy friends and am mentioning one of them.
    I meant that when I say these phrases (about an interesting movie a crazy friend) I imply that there are other "interesting movies" or someone's "crazy friends" (somewhere in the world), and because these nouns are countable.
    Or am I wrong and dramatic eagerness and a crazy friend express absolutelly the same idea despite eagerness is uncountable while friend is countable noun?:
    "it expressed an eagerness which is dramatic"
    "I have a friend who is crazy...
    "
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The indefinite article marks a noun as count singular. "Loathing", "eagerness", and "glamour" are usually noncount, but "a loathing", "an eagerness", and "a glamour" are singular count, and the meaning, as Wandle says, is "a kind of ..."/"a type of ...".

    The indefinite article does not mean one of multiple; it just means one.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Besides bringing out a certain aspect of the notion denoted by the noun the indefinite article also has a stylistic effect making a description more vivid.
    [...]This doesn't mean, however, that these nouns are becoming countable. The indefinite article here means one of kinds of loathing/eagerness/glamour, but not one of "loathings", "eagernesses" or "glamours".
    It is unclear where the quote ends but it is far easier to see the qualification of an uncountable noun as making it a count noun, although I do agree on the stylistic side of the description.

    As guidance, a count noun (in the singular) requires an article or at least a determiner.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    What I meant by "one of interesting movies / crazy friends" is:
    The Indefinite Article( a ,an ) is a weakened form of the numeral “one” and is historically related to it. It has 3 functions:
    · Classifying (meaning “one of” ). For example: It’s a letter.
    · Generalizing (meaning “any” ) .For example: A tiger is a dangerous animal
    · Numerical (meaning “one” ).For example: Wait a minute!
    http://www.englishclub.narod.ru/grammar/grammar_3_8.htm
    You see -- " one of " and "any", which implies that there can be other (such movies or friends), doesn't it?:confused:
    But when we say "a loathing", "an eagerness" or "a glamour" we cannot imply "one of" and "any", all we imply is "a kind of ..."/"a type of ...".
    Or do I misunderstand the quote?

    'A crazy friend' simply means 'a friend who is crazy'
    If 'A crazy friend' simply means 'a friend who is crazy', then, "a curious glamour" simply means 'a curious which is glamour', and it doesn't matter if a noun is countable or uncountable?:confused:
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Your quotation gives three uses for the indefinite article:
    · Classifying (meaning “one of” ). For example: It’s a letter.
    · Generalizing (meaning “any” ) .For example: A tiger is a dangerous animal
    · Numerical (meaning “one” ).For example: Wait a minute!
    Your examples in post 1:
    I watched an interesting movie yesterday.
    I have a crazy friend
    are both instances of the third use (numerical). They mean one individual, without implying any others in the background.

    If 'A crazy friend' simply means 'a friend who is crazy', then, "a curious glamour" simply means 'a curious which is glamour', and it doesn't matter if a noun is countable or uncountable?:confused:
    'A crazy friend' means 'a friend who is crazy'; in the same way, 'a curious glamour' means 'a glamour which is curious'.
    All that is happening here is that the attributive function of the adjective is being re-expressed in another form without change of meaning. (It is comparable to saying 24 = 3 x 8.)
    This re-expression of the adjective's meaning is equally valid regardless what type of noun is involved. It does not affect the noun.
     
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    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Your examples in post 1:
    I watched an interesting movie yesterday.
    I have a crazy friend
    are both instances of the third use (numerical). They mean one individual, without implying any others in the background.
    If you don't mind - some lines from the book from which the original quote is:
    A man and a woman sat opposite us, but they did not talk.
    Gloria pushed a button in the wall.
    We saw a house with a lawn in front of it.
    (.....)
    This is the nominating meaning as we give a name to an object we have in mind.
    The indefinite article may assign an object to a certain class or kind of similar objects. This may be called the classifying meaning of the indefinite article:
    Her brother was a student at Balliol College.
    "Sir Wilmer has always been a good neighbour to us," said Davina,
    (.....)
    The difference between the nominating and the classifying meaning becomes apparent if we turn the examples given above into the plural.
    In the case of the nominating meaning plural nouns may be preceded by words like some, several, a few or by a numeral:
    Two men and two girls sat opposite us, a few men, a few girls, some men, some girls

    In the case of the classifying meaning plural nouns cannot be preceded by those words or by numerals:
    Her brothers were students at Balliol College.
    Sometimes the meaning of oneness becomes predominant. In such cases we can speak of the numeric meaning of the indefinite article:
    An hour in the morning is worth two m the evening.
    Quinn couldn't hear a word she spoke.
    Basing on this quote, I think that articles in
    "I watched an interesting movie yesterday."
    "I have a crazy friend".

    .... have the nominating meaning. Because I can say:
    "I watched some interesting movies yesterday."
    "I have a few crazy friends".

    If it were: Titanic is an interesting movie or Joe is a crazy friend man -- it'd be the classifying meaning.
    But they cannot have the numeric meaning, because I don't mean that I have only one crazy friend (I can have many of them) or watch only one interesting movie (I could watch some yesterday). "Wait a minute!" means "wait one minute, not longer".
    Now, look at the part in the quote which I marked in red. That's what I meant by "there can be other (such movies or friends)".
    Returning to our abstract nouns: can we also say "two/some/several loathings/eagernesses/glamours"? I think we can't. That's what I meant when talked about the difference between the indefinite article with countable and uncountable nouns.
    I'm wrong?

    (>>'a curious glamour' means 'a glamour which is curious' -- yes that's what I meant:eek:)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    You seem to be quoting from two different sources which employ different terms.
    It seems that the numerical use is the same as the nominating use: two terms for one use.

    At any rate, no matter how many crazy friends you may have, the sentence 'I have a crazy friend' informs us of one only and does not imply the existence of others.

    Of course, there is nothing to stop you following it immediately with the sentence: 'As a matter of fact, I have dozens'.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    You seem to be quoting from two different sources which employ different terms.
    It seems that the numerical use is the same as the nominating use: two terms for one use.
    I agree that what the quote in #6 calls "Classifying" and "Generalizing", the quote in #8 calls "nominating" and "classifying" respectively. But "Numerical" or "Numeric" in both quotes mean the same, and I still believe this is not what is meant in:
    I watched an interesting movie yesterday.
    I have a crazy friend
    .:(
    But could you tell, what do you think about:
    Now, look at the part in the quote which I marked in red. That's what I meant by "there can be other (such movies or friends)".
    Returning to our abstract nouns: can we also say "two/some/several loathings/eagernesses/glamours"? I think we can't. That's what I meant when talked about the difference between the indefinite article with countable and uncountable nouns.
    Or: two/some/several dramatic eagernesses/curious glamours...
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I am sorry, I did not read your quotations carefully enough.
    The extract from Barmina makes good sense. I suggest we forget the other and talk in Barmina's terms.

    On that basis, your two sentences are examples of the nominating use, not the classifying use or the numeric use. They mean in effect: 'I saw something which I call an interesting film'; 'I have someone whom I call a crazy friend'.

    However, let me say again that each of these examples indicates the existence of one only, not a set of films or friends. There is no suggestion of plurality about either sentence.
    Barmina's point about substituting plural for singular is simply that you can do it in cases of the nominating use, not the classifying use. It is certainly possible to say 'I saw two interesting films'.

    Coming to the abstract nouns, in the expressions 'a loathing he had never known', 'it expressed a dramatic eagerness' and 'it is invested for me with a curious glamour', we understand these as meaning a kind of loathing he had never known, a dramatic kind of eagerness and a curious kind of glamour. These expressions are certainly classifying the concepts in question. Therefore these are examples of Barmina's clasifying use.

    Returning to my original comment:
    because 'loathing' is uncountable, therefore 'a loathing' means 'a kind of loathing', etc.
    This seems equivalent to saying, in Barmina's terms, that if a normally uncountable abstract noun is used with the indefinite article, then this will automatically be an example of the classifying use of the article.
     
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    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Coming to the abstract nouns, in the expressions 'a loathing he had never known', 'it expressed a dramatic eagerness' and 'it is invested for me with a curious glamour', we understand these as meaning a kind of loathing he had never known, a dramatic kind of eagerness and a curious kind of glamour. These expressions are certainly classifying the concepts in question. Therefore these are examples of Barmina's clasifying use.

    Returning to my original comment:


    This seems equivalent to saying, in Barmina's terms, that if a normally uncountable abstract noun is used with the indefinite article, then this will automatically be an example of the classifying use of the article.
    I'd like to do some transformation:
    Her brother was a student at Balliol College.
    "Sir Wilmer has always been a good neighbour to us," said Davina,
    His aunt, a woman of uncertain age, was also present at the ceremony.


    Her brothers were students at Balliol College.
    "The Wilmers have always been good neighbours to us," said Davina,

    His relatives, women of uncertain age, were also present at the ceremony.


    Compare:

    He was filled with a loathing he had never known.
    He scanned her face: it expressed a dramatic eagerness.
    Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a curious glamour.


    They were filled with a loathing they had never known.
    He scanned their faces: they expressed a dramatic eagerness.
    Looking back upon those luncheons now they are invested for me with a curious glamour.


    I mean - when we are classifying nouns which are in the plural, the classifying countable nouns are also in plural. But when "the classifying nouns" are uncountable, we cannot use them in plural even if the classified nouns are in plural.
    By this I mean that countable nouns can always potentially be in plural, but when uncountable nouns are used in such meaning with indefinite article they are still uncountable and cannot be in plural.
    Is that right?:)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Her brothers were students at Balliol College.
    "The Wilmers have always been good neighbours to us," said Davina,
    His relatives, women of uncertain age, were also present at the ceremony.
    These are not examples of the kind of plural that Barmina has in mind.

    Barmina's point is that the plural in a quantified form can be substituted for the singular in cases which have the nominating sense of the article, but not the classifying sense.
    In the case of the nominating meaning plural nouns may be preceded by words like some, several, a few or by a numeral:
    Two men and two girls sat opposite us, a few men, a few girls, some men, some girls.
    Those are quantified plurals which are valid and that fact confirms that the article was being used in the nominating sense.

    If we now use quantified plurals to test the examples of the classifying sense, we find that they do not work:

    Her brothers were some students at Balliol College.:cross:
    "The Wilmers have always been three good neighbours to us," said Davina:cross:
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    You misunderstood me.:) I refered not to Barmina's passage about the nominating meaning, but to your passage, which I quoted, where you're saying: "Therefore these are examples of Barmina's clasifying use". In #12 I talked about the classifying meaning only.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It is only from Barmina's analysis that we have drawn the observation that quantified plurals cannot be substituted in cases of the classifying sense of the article. Given that the abstract noun examples are of the classifying kind, that leads us to the conclusion that quantified plurals cannot be substituted for the singular in these cases.

    This conclusion certainly seems to be borne out in the examples you gave:

    He was filled with some loathings he had never known.:cross:
    He scanned her face: it expressed several dramatic eagernesses. :cross:
    Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a pair of curious glamours. :cross:
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It is only from Barmina's analysis that we have drawn the observation that quantified plurals cannot be substituted in cases of the classifying sense of the article
    I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean:( Do you mean that: "In the case of the classifying meaning plural nouns cannot be preceded by those words or by numerals" ?
    . Given that the abstract noun examples are of the classifying kind, that leads us to the conclusion that quantified plurals cannot be substituted for the singular in these cases.
    This conclusion certainly seems to be borne out in the examples you gave:
    He was filled with some loathings he had never known.:cross:
    He scanned her face: it expressed several dramatic eagernesses. :cross:
    Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a pair of curious glamours. :cross:
    Since you're using such words like some, several, a pair of, it makes me think you once again are talking about the "nominating meaning". (And, please, note, I'm using the plural for "face", "luncheon" and "he")

    When I said:
    They
    were filled with a loathing they had never known.
    He scanned their faces: they expressed a dramatic eagerness.
    Looking back upon those luncheons now they are invested for me with a curious glamour.


    ...I meant that we can't say this, instead.:

    They were filled with loathings they had never known. :cross:
    He scanned their faces: they expressed dramatic eagernesses.:cross:
    Looking back upon those luncheons now they are invested for me with curious glamours.
    :cross:

    But with countable nouns we can:

    Her brothers were students at Balliol College.
    "The Wilmers have always been good neighbours to us," said Davina,

    His relatives, women of uncertain age, were also present at the ceremony.

    I mean - when we are classifying nouns which are in the plural, the classifying countable nouns are also in plural. But when "the classifying nouns" are uncountable, we cannot use them in plural even if the classified nouns are in plural.
    By this I mean that countable nouns can always potentially be in plural, but when uncountable nouns are used in such meaning with indefinite article they are still uncountable and cannot be in plural.
    Is that right?
    :)
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    I think you are generally correct that the indefinite article evokes the idea of 'kind' and doesn't imply countability.

    I'm not sure it has anything particular to do with abstract nouns, however.

    Honey:
    He tasted the first sample. It was a honey whose taste he had never known.

    He tasted the second sample. It was a honey whose taste was identical with what he'd known as a child in Serbia.

    So I would say, where something is uncountable it may still be considered in portions; these portions may be characterized.

    ADDED: Previous example: They were filled with a loathing they had never known.

    Altered version : When they saw the avant garde film, the were filled with a loathing they had never known. Next day, they saw a Disney film and felt the usual loathing they felt at Hollywood movies.

    Now, as Wandle points out, we do not say, "On the two days, they had two loathings." (It's not like buying a kitten on two successive days, resulting in two kittens.) What we say is that on the two days, they felt two kinds of loathing.

    ===


    Besides bringing out a certain aspect of the notion denoted by the noun the indefinite article also has a stylistic effect making a description more vivid. Therefore the use of the indefinite article with abstract nouns is characteristic of the belles lettres style:
    He was filled with a loathing he had never known.
    He scanned her face: it expressed a dramatic eagerness.
    Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a curious glamour.

    Learning to use articles by L. Barmina


    "loathing", "eagerness" and "glamour" take indefinite articles because of "he had never known", "dramatic" and "curious".
    This doesn't mean, however, that these nouns are becoming countable. The indefinite article here means one of kinds of loathing/eagerness/glamour, but not one of "loathings", "eagernesses" or "glamours".
    Compare:

    I watched an interesting movie yesterday.
    I have a crazy friend

    Here the indefinite articles mean one of interesting movies / crazy friends.

    Is my reasoning correct?
    Thank you
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It is only from Barmina's analysis that we have drawn the observation that quantified plurals cannot be substituted in cases of the classifying sense of the article
    Do you mean that: "In the case of the classifying meaning plural nouns cannot be preceded by those words or by numerals"?
    Certainly. A quantified plural is a plural with an expression of quantity: 'some', 'several', 'ten', 'three', 'a number of', etc.
    Barmina is saying that when the indefinite article is being used in the classifying sense you cannot then substitute a quantified plural for the singular. That is what I have been talking about:
    Given that the abstract noun examples are of the classifying kind, that leads us to the conclusion that quantified plurals cannot be substituted for the singular in these cases.
    He was filled with some loathings he had never known.:cross:
    He scanned her face: it expressed several dramatic eagernesses. :cross:
    Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a pair of curious glamours. :cross:
    These are examples of abstract nouns where the singular shows the classifying use of the indefinite article. The substitutions I have made there confirms that in these examples of the classifying use, the quantified plural does not work.

    Barmina's point is that this test (substituting a quantified plural for the singular) does not work in the case of the classifying use of the article. This is confirmed by the above examples.

    It is not about the difference between countable and uncountable nouns, but about the difference between the classifying and the nominating uses of the article.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It is not about the difference between countable and uncountable nouns, but about the difference between the classifying and the nominating uses of the article.
    I'm sorry, I maybe was not clear enough, but in #12 (and further) I said that I was interested in "the difference between countable and uncountable nouns", not in "the difference between the classifying and the nominating uses of the article":eek:.
    I'm not sure it has anything particular to do with abstract nouns, however.

    Honey:
    He tasted the first sample. It was a honey whose taste he had never known.

    He tasted the second sample. It was a honey whose taste was identical with what he'd known as a child in Serbia.

    So I would say, where something is uncountable it may still be considered in portions; these portions may be characterized.
    I believe there is a difference between abstract notions and substances here:
    That is, we can say:
    These two honeys were delicious. (I mean "these two samples" that he tasted.)
    But imagine the situation:
    He tasted the first sample. It was a honey whose taste was identical with what he'd known as a youth in Hungary.
    He tasted the second sample. It was a honey whose taste was identical with what he'd known as a child in Serbia.
    In this case we can't say:
    Those two honeys were delicious. (the honey in Hungary and that in Serbia).
    What I mean by that is that we can consider substances in portions (like honey) but can't do so with abstract notions like loathing, eagerness, glamour. Am I right?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I'm sorry, I maybe was not clear enough, but in #12 (and further) I said that I was interested in "the difference between countable and uncountable nouns", not in "the difference between the classifying and the nominating uses of the article":eek:.
    Somehow, I had the impression that you had introduced the distinction between the classifying and the nominating uses of the article because it was basic to your position and was the source of your question.
    we can't say:
    Those two honeys were delicious. (the honey in Hungary and that in Serbia).
    The only problem with that is the tense. It ought to be 'Those two honeys had been delicious' (since that is presented here as the memory of earlier experience).
    What I mean by that is that we can consider substances in portions (like honey) but can't do so with abstract notions like loathing, eagerness, glamour. Am I right?
    If by this you mean that we do not normally speak of loathings, eagernesses, etc. then I agree. We seem to have gone a long way round to arrive at such a simple point, though.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    If by this you mean that we do not normally speak of loathings, eagernesses, etc. then I agree. We seem to have gone a long way round to arrive at such a simple point, though.
    I meant by this that I think that abstract nouns never become countable, even if/when they are used with the indefinite article. Because if they would, then they could become "loathings", "eagernesses", "glamours", etc., since countability implies possibility of being plural.
    Forero and Paul said that the indefinite article makes them countable and that's what I don't understand, I see a contradiction between not being "loathings", "eagernesses", "glamours" and being countable.:confused:
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I maintain that loathing when it means "type of loathing" is a count noun, as type is a count noun, and the plural of loathing is indeed loathings:

    He experienced loathing when he saw how they treated the captive men, but a loathing he had felt before, one he could keep to himself. But when he saw what they did to the women, he was filled with a different loathing, one he had never known. Both loathings together were more than he could repress.

    Loathings is an unusual word, unusual enough to make this last sentence sound rather silly, but that does not make it wrong. Feelings, another plural with the same kind of meaning, we use a lot.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I see your point ("type is a count noun" sounds convincing), but I wouldn't agree that "fellings" has the same kind of meaning as "loathings".
    In all dictionaries loathing goes as "singular, uncountable", while "feelings" is a usual word, and "feeling" has "countable" meanings.
    Could you name the source of this passage?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I see your point ("type is a count noun" sounds convincing), but I wouldn't agree that "fellings" has the same kind of meaning as "loathings".
    In all dictionaries loathing goes as "singular, uncountable", while "feelings" is a usual word, and "feeling" has "countable" meanings.

    Could you name the source of this passage?
    I made it up, and I admit the sentence with the plural loathings sounds silly. But it does not sound silly to say "a loathing", and refer to it as "one", and then "a different loathing", and refer to it as "one". Logically, that is two loathings.
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    Reply to Forero:

    "Here inside, the air is bad; outside the air is good." Are there two airs? No, I'd say. Is there, outside, 'a different air' in the sense of a second air, a countable thing? No. The air outside smells better. Uncountable things have portions; the portions may even have location, but they don't have identity. They are not countable. How is the air inside divided? There is air in each room; are there as many 'airs' as there are rooms? How about the closets? Then there's the air in the upper closet, versus the lower. Is that two?

    Forero: //I maintain that loathing when it means "type of loathing" is a count noun, as type is a count noun, and the plural of loathing is indeed loathings:

    He experienced loathing when he saw how they treated the captive men, but a loathing he had felt before, one he could keep to himself. But when he saw what they did to the women, he was filled with a different loathing, one he had never known. Both loathings together were more than he could repress.//
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Reply to Forero:

    "Here inside, the air is bad; outside the air is good." Are there two airs? No, I'd say. Is there, outside, 'a different air' in the sense of a second air, a countable thing? No. The air outside smells better. Uncountable things have portions; the portions may even have location, but they don't have identity. They are not countable. How is the air inside divided? There is air in each room; are there as many 'airs' as there are rooms? How about the closets? Then there's the air in the upper closet, versus the lower. Is that two?
    "The air" is not marked as count, but when you say "'a different air'", the indefinite article marks "air" as count singular, and when you say "as many 'airs'", that is count plural. You are using the single quotes (inverted commas) to show that the form does not fit the noncount meaning you intend.

    I'll mark in green the indicators in my example of count singular and plural:

    He experienced loathing when he saw how they treated the captive men, but a loathing he had felt before, one [loathing] he could keep to himself. But when he saw what they did to the women, he was filled with a different loathing, one [loathing] he had never known. Both loathings together were more than he could repress.

    Here is the same thing with type, a count noun, added wherever loathing is marked as a count noun, because as a count noun loathing means "type of loathing":

    He experienced loathing when he saw how they treated the captive men, but a type of loathing he had felt before, one [type] he could keep to himself. But when he saw what they did to the women, he was filled with a type of loathing, one [type] he had never known. Both types of loathing together were more than he could repress.

    It still sounds silly to enumerate loathings / types of loathing because it detracts from the drama meant to be associated with loathing. In fact, just repeating loathing so many times seems silly in comparison to the original sentence with "a loathing he had never known".

    But there is nothing wrong here grammatically. Grammatically loathing is noncount in my "He experienced loathing" and count singular in the original "a loathing he had never known" (= "a type of loathing he had never known").
     
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    bennymix

    Senior Member
    It's an interesting exercize, Forero, and I go with your second rendering.

    As to the first:

    Forero #1 I'll mark in green the indicators in my example of count singular and plural:

    He experienced loathing when he saw how they treated the captive men, but a loathing he had felt before, one [loathing] he could keep to himself. But when he saw what they did to the women, he was filled with a different loathing, one [loathing] he had never known. Both loathings together were more than he could repress.

    ==
    It's impressive and ingenious, but not plausible to me! The fact that you can insert the signs of countabily does not give the example any weight. Here's my proof that a mare is a he: "We had a mare. We called him Billy, and fed him regularly." :)
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I said that I was interested in "the difference between countable and uncountable nouns",
    Countable and Uncountable nouns are probably better described as respectively, countable and mass nouns. An uncountable noun is one that is used to describe a mass of a homogeneous substance. Countable nouns are the rest of the nouns.

    Uncountable nouns are either weakly or strongly uncountable.

    Wine is a weakly uncountable noun. If can refer to wine in general terms (as a mass of a homogeneous substance) -> “Wine is delicious.” Or it can be countable: “Two wines that complement cheese are Muscadet and Chardonnay.” It is as common to hear wine as countable, as it is as uncountable.

    Weakly uncountable nouns often refer to traded commodities, i.e. where it is likely that a mass of a homogeneous substance is in common use but where individuals will use small amounts of the substance and need to distinguish between each type: Coffee, sugar, beer, brick, wood, coal, steel, etc.

    Advice is strongly uncountable because even when used specifically, it remains uncountable -> “He gave me good advice.” “He gave me some advice.” It is not possible to say, “He gave me [two] advices/an advice.” Strongly uncountable nouns are often abstract. This gives an idea of how an uncountable noun works -> the greater the homogeneity, the stronger it is.

    As a heretic, I do not accept that uncountable nouns are always uncountable: they change depending upon context.

    There are words that hover between countable nouns, collective nouns and mass-nouns; e.g. jewellery. I give you some jewellery and then some more jewellery. What do you have? Jewellery. But Jewellery comprises rings, necklaces, brooches, etc. and 5 or 6 rings can be described as jewellery, but so can 4 or 5 bracelets. Rings are jewellery but jewellery is not rings. Jewellery thus describes a set of different things... perhaps it is seen as "ornamentation" which is uncountable?
     
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