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Jeff Atwood argues that "What is bounty?" is correct here, but is this really the case?

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I would say What is a bounty?, in the same way I would say What is a car?; I don't find anything that reports the sentence What is bounty is grammatically not correct. – kiamlaluno Jan 26 '11 at 13:11
Without a preceding article, such as in the title question, I would normally assume that "bounty" means "abundance." – oosterwal Jan 4 '13 at 14:50
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think it's fine. What we're talking about is a noun spoken of as a representative of its class, not merely as an instance of it. Consider some parallels:

What is art?

What is beauty?

What is language?

"What is bounty?" in that context is really a shortened way to say "What do we mean when we use the term 'bounty' on this site?" I, for one, have no objection to it at all.

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Note: this only works for collective nouns; you couldn't say "*what is car?". I suspect the OP has a problem with the collective sense of bounty. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 26 '11 at 13:54
I have to disagree with this one. Sure, it's understood, but in formal (British) English it is not correct. Bounty is a countable - not a mass - noun (certainly not in this context), so an article (a would work) is definitely required here. – Noldorin Jan 26 '11 at 23:53
Art and beauty are abstract nouns. – Andrew Grimm Jun 24 '11 at 9:43

It's fine in context, i.e. when asked on this or any other site that uses a bounty system.

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Perhaps the title should be “What is bounty?”, or perhaps “What is ‘bounty’?”. By comparison to “What is beauty?”, the question “What is bounty?” asks what the concept means rather than what the word means.

To illustrate, somewhat trivially:
Q: What is happiness?
A: Happiness is the state of <insert favorite definition here>.
Q: What is happiness?
A: Happiness is a warm puppy.

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In addition to what other answerers have said, "what is a bounty" has a different meaning than you intend it to. Using that indefinite article implies that you're referring to a particular, though unidentified, bounty somewhere. If anything, "what are bounties" would be better.

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