Part — when it is countable and uncountable?

Rika_22

Member
Japanese
Hi everyone. I have a question about the noun, “part.” When do you use it as a countable noun and an uncountable noun?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, part can be both countable and uncountable.
When it’s uncountable, the entry was, “some, but not all of a thing.” For example,

1. Part of my steak isn’t cooked properly.
2. I think part of her problem is she doesn’t listen to others.

On the other hand, when it’s countable, the meaning was, “a separate piece of something, or a piece that combines with other pieces to form the whole of something.” For example,

3. We learned all the different parts of the digestive system.
4. I think there’s always a part of you that doubts what you’re doing.


At first, I thought when the part had an actual form like sentence 3, it was countable. However, this doesn’t apply to sentence 4 because thoughts don’t have actual forms.

How do you distinguish countable “part” and uncountable “part?”
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    When you are reading or listening, then you can tell when it’s used countably or uncountably. When you are forming your own sentence, then what’s important is whether you are thinking about there being several parts. For example in 3 this is obvious. In 4 it really depends : here both countable and uncountable are possible. As you had identified, the only time you really have to use it countably is when there are clearly multiple parts and you want to refer to one or more of them (parts of a cake, parts of a machine, and so on).
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    SSBE (Standard Southern British English)
    I suspect that this might be a false distinction. I have the feeling that 'part' is countable in all those examples, but we sometimes have the option to omit the article. Looking at your examples with a singular 'part':

    1. Part of my steak isn’t cooked properly.
    What we mean here is basically the same as 'a part', meaning one section of it. It might be the middle which isn't cooked properly, while the edges are cooked: i.e., one part, but not the other parts. I can't see how the concept here is any different from (4), for example.

    2. I think part of her problem is she doesn’t listen to others.
    This is more abstract, but the same reasoning applies. One part of her problem is that she doesn't listen to others, another part of her problem is that.... and so on. I don't think it would be wrong to say I think a part of her problem is..

    4. I think there’s always a part of you that doubts what you’re doing.
    This is definitely a spurious distinction: you could just as well say I think there’s always part of you ... and the meaning would be exactly the same.

    This is just a theory on my part ( :) ) and I haven't tested it fully. I'd be interested to hear what other think.
     
    Last edited:

    Rika_22

    Member
    Japanese
    Oh I see. Thank you! :)

    I see your point, Wordy Mcwordface. I’m curious about other people’s opinions, too.
    To you, which is more common?
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    SSBE (Standard Southern British English)
    Are you asking if it's more common to include or omit the article? It's hard to say, but here's an example of some crude research. I just googled "You're part of the family" and got 2 million hits. Then I googled "You're a part of the family" and got 6 million. One appears to be three times as common as the other, but both are equally valid. I really don't see any justification for claiming that one of those sentences is using a countable noun and the other an uncountable noun. I think that they're using 'part' in exactly the same sense, either with or without the article.
     
    Last edited:

    Rika_22

    Member
    Japanese
    I suppose whether you use the countable part or the uncountable part really depends on how the speaker perceives the noun…
    It’s been a very interesting discussion! Thank you :)
     
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