solvent vs a solvent (countable or uncountable)

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lena55313

Senior Member
Russian-Russia
Uncountable nouns tend to belong to one of the following categories:
1. Liquids and Gases
2. Solid and Granular Substances
etc

In the dictionary we can see that water is an uncountable word but solvent and liquid are both could be countable and uncountable.
Could anybody explain when and why solvent is an uncountable and when and why a solvent is a countable word.
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    It is uncountable when you are referring generically to the quality, and countable when you are referring to a specific quantity or a particular substance.
    Alcohol is a solvent (countable)
    Alcohol is a type of solvent (uncountable).
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    If you are asking for three bottles each containing a different solvent, and you don't mind which three, you could say that.
     

    lena55313

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    So if i say three solvents they will give me three different bottles each containing a different solvent?

    And if they have only one type of solvent, and many bottles, what should i say:
    give me three bottles of solvent or give me three solvents?

    And if they have only one type of solvent, and only one bottle, what should i say:
    Give me a solvent or give me solvent or give me a bottle of solvent?
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    So if i say three solvents they will give me three different bottles each containing a different solvent?
    Yes

    And if they have only one type of solvent, and many bottles, what should i say:
    give me three bottles :tick:of solvent or give me three solvents?:cross:
    You should ask for three bottles of solvent.

    And if they have only one type of solvent, and only one bottle, what should i say:
    Give me a solvent :cross:or give me solvent :thumbsdown:or give me a bottle of solvent?:tick:
    You should say "Give me a bottle of solvent".

    You might of course want to be more polite when requesting things.
     

    lena55313

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you very much, Glasguensis, but it's still not clear.
    Why we can ask three coffees and can't ask three solvents? (if we want the same type of each liquid)
    What is the difference between these two words. Both are liquid.

    and countable when you are referring to a specific quantity or a particular substance.
    Particular substance...
    Is water a particular substance? Why do we say: he poured a solvent on the carpet, but he poured water on the carpet
    From wikipedia:A solvent (from the Latinsolvō, "I loosen, untie, I solve") is a substance that dissolves a solute. Water is a transparent and nearly colorless chemical substance
    Both are substances. Both are said generically (in wiki)

    ou might of course want to be more polite when requesting things.
    Sorry for my examples. They were just examples)))
    And thank you very much once more for your responses.
     

    RedwoodGrove

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Why we can ask three coffees and can't ask three solvents? (if we want the same type of each liquid)
    What is the difference between these two words. Both are liquid.
    "Three coffees" means three cups of coffee in standard English while "three solvents" does not mean three cans of solvent. It means three different types of solvent.
     

    lena55313

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    "Three coffees" means three cups of coffee in standard English while "three solvents" does not mean three cans of solvent. It means three different types of solvent.
    May be there are some rules about these words? How can we know that three coffees=three cups, but three solvents :cross:three bottles of solvent.
    English native speakers of course know that in this case they are to say this in the another case they are to say that. They have not necessity to think why. But for foreigners it's important to catch the frame of the subject, the rule and exeptions.
    All my life I've thought that it's possible to say only three cups of coffee. Today I've read that three coffees also OK.)) Of course, a lot of questions' appeared in my mind.
    My guess-works: commonly we should say the cup (bottle, can, glass, etc) of solvent (coffee, tea, milk,etc) but some particular liquids can be said in plural: three coffees, three waters. So, the question: what other substances could be said in plural if we mean they are inside some tare. It is just my guess. May be i"m wrong.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    If you are talking about beverages, then it's possible to use "I'd like three coffees/teas/juices/milks":thumbsup:, etc. If you are talking about liquids used for other purposes, then that formula doesn't sound normal: I'd like three solvents/gasolines:confused:

    If you remember that simple distinction, you won't have any more problems with this construction and how to use it correctly.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    The normal rule is that even with coffee we should really say "cups of". It's only because in busy shops it saves a lot of time, that this context allows us to omit the "cups of" part, so you can ask for three beers, two coffees and a tea.
    We don't buy solvents that often, so the time-saving abbreviation is not necessary. I'd like half a litre of acetone, please, with a slice of lemon.
     
    Last edited:

    Forero

    Senior Member
    It is uncountable when you are referring generically to the quality, and countable when you are referring to a specific quantity or a particular substance.
    Alcohol is a solvent (countable)
    Alcohol is a type of solvent (uncountable).
    In this last example, solvent may be either count or noncount. (Tapioca is a type of starch (noncount). A poodle is a type of dog (count).) For me, solvent is unusual as a noncount noun (because I usually think of it as a category, a type, or a function), but I can imagine context in which "three solvents" can mean "three units/containers of solvent".
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I can imagine context in which "three solvents" can mean "three units/containers of solvent".
    I can imagine that too, Forero, but I certainly wouldn't advise an English-learner to go into a paint store and ask for "three paints" rather than "three cans of paint."
     

    lena55313

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    If you are talking about beverages
    Thank you! It's very easy to remember.
    The normal rule is that even with coffee we should really say "cups of".
    I felt something wrong with these three coffees))) I will say then as I'm accustomed: three cups of... Thank you very much.
    Tapioca is a type of starch (noncount). A poodle is a type of dog (count)
    So, when we speak about a group (type, kind of, rank of, class etc) of something this word is always without "a-article" and it doesn't matter if this word countable (a dog) or uncountable (starch), isn't it?

    But one thing is still unclear to me:
    he poured a solvent on the carpet, but he poured water on the carpet
    Why is it a solvent (with a) when we speak about it as about the substance?
    The same in the wiki-articles: a solvent, but water. Why?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hi, Lena. The speaker probably used "a solvent" because there are many different types of solvents.* "A solvent" makes it clear that he used one of them. The speaker probably used "tapioca" and "water" because there is only one type of tapioca and one type of water.

    *"He poured solvent on the carpet" also sounds normal to me. In this version, the fact that there are many different types of solvent isn't important to the speaker.
     
    Last edited:

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Thank you! It's very easy to remember.

    I felt something wrong with these three coffees))) I will say then as I'm accustomed: three cups of... Thank you very much.

    So, when we speak about a group (type, kind of, rank of, class etc) of something this word is always without "a-article" and it doesn't matter if this word countable (a dog) or uncountable (starch), does it?
    This is too general. For example, there are different kinds of groups:

    A species of cat.:tick:
    A pack of dog.:cross:
    But one thing is still unclear to me:

    Why is it a solvent (with a) when we speak about it as about the substance?
    The same in the wiki-articles: a solvent, but water. Why?
    Most English nouns can be either count or noncount, depending on what we mean to say. Liquid things like "water" and "solvent" tend to be noncount in general but count when referring to different types or kinds or to units or containers.

    I would like some water. [Water is usually noncount singular.]
    Some bottled "spring" waters come from springs with a lot of sulphur and other unpleasant material, but they have been purified for drinking purposes. [Plural for water bottled by different companies]
    Three ice teas and two waters, please. [Plural for units or containers, such as cups or glasses, of water.]

    Another exception is that waters, plural, can be used for bodies of water, or parts of them, seen as territory (e.g. Japanese waters, Spanish waters), or distinguished descriptively (still waters, turbid waters).

    Water
    is a native English word referring to a liquid we are all familiar with. When used as a count noun, we know to look for a special meaning.

    But solvent is a Latin-derived word primarily referring to a concept in physics and chemistry. Very different things can all be called "solvents", so the word solvent is used more often as a count noun than water is.
     

    lena55313

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Forero, Owlman5, thank you very very much!
    Now it's seemed clear to me at last about all these liquids)))
    You've been very helpful. I'm jumping joyfully, yeah!!!

    A species of cat.:tick:
    A pack of dog.:cross:
    A pack of dogs, right? Because all dogs could be of different breeds. It's just a group (a company) of dog-friends without any classification?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    A pack of dogs, right? Because all dogs could be of different breeds. It's just a group (a company) of dog-friends without any classification?
    Right, but they don't have to be of different breeds. "Pack" is just a collective term. A pack of wolves (same breed). A swarm of bees. A school of fish. A bunch of flowers.
     
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