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I know that "advice" is uncountable and thus is incompatible with the article "a".

However, the phrase "Just a friendly advice" seems to be rather widespread.

Is it idiomatic, or incorrect? What is a more grammatical form?

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"Just a friendly advice" 1,070,000 results on Google Search. It is grammatically correct. cf. comment @Robusto below. – Kris Feb 10 '13 at 11:45
What search terms did you use? I search for "a friendly advice" and came up with 205, more than half of them occurring in the 19th century. I would need to see much more compelling evidence before the descriptivist part of my brain would overrule the prescriptivist part. – Shawn Mooney Feb 10 '13 at 11:57
@Mohit, thanks. I conducted my corpus search on Google Books Corpora, which, as other posters here have indicated, is far more reputable than a basic Google search. I should have pointed that out before. – Shawn Mooney Feb 10 '13 at 14:19
Advice is not countable, period. It is not like beer. Whereas "a brewery produces beer" and you can have "three beers", someone is a "source of advice" and he cannot give you "three advices". Google is not valid because not all English web pages are written by people competent in English. Also, web scrapers multiply web search results. Google's estimated number of pages doesn't mean anything. It will say that two million pages contain matches, but when you go through the list exhaustively, it's just a few pages of hits (even if you repeat the search with the omitted pages included). – Kaz Feb 10 '13 at 18:36
@Kaz There is a countable advice, which refers specifically to a type of official notification. But this is an uncommon use of the word and these are not ever friendly anyhow. – Kit Z. Fox Feb 11 '13 at 13:25
up vote 138 down vote accepted

If you use an article with advice you have to use a counter:

A friendly piece of advice.

A friendly bit of advice.

No one who is competent in English would say

A friendly advice. [Wrong!]

To omit the article, competent speakers would say

Some friendly advice.

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That is one peculiar elision. But thanks for the downvote. I know nothing makes your day like giving me one or more of those. – Robusto Feb 10 '13 at 11:48
+1 Robusto, the Internet is a democracy, which means a tyranny of numbers. Some people are overwhelmed by the glitter that numbers sprinkle like pixie dust from Tinker Bell's wand to shower a magical feeling of meaning on statements of the "Sixty million Frenchmen can't be wrong!" variety. Of course they can. I've never heard a native English-speaker say, or read anything written by a native English-speaker that said, "Just a friendly advice", & I don't think any native English-speaker can support the contention that it's an acceptable sentence because of a claimed elision. Disingenuousness! – user21497 Feb 10 '13 at 11:59
@Robusto, stick to your guns. You are absolutely correct. – Shawn Mooney Feb 10 '13 at 11:59
@Kris: You can't just randomly elide words from sentences and maintain that they remain grammatically. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 10 '13 at 15:50
@Kris: Even if that's true, eliding something is not a proper defense for its grammatical validity--at best you prove that it's a colloquialism. Further, instances of usage do not prove grammatical validity either--many, many people use the word "who" when they mean whom, and it wouldn't be hard to find countless google results where that mistake exists. Worse, the internet has large amounts of program-generated text that is simply designed to fill a page with common search phrases--meaning google is even less suitable for the purpose. – Andy Isbell Feb 11 '13 at 7:34

Dear reader: I'm going to offer you a little friendly advice. When checking to see if something is "grammatical," do not rely on a Google search. Google will return hits from blogs and message boards, which are not necessarily reliable sources for determining correct English. Google will also return other odd nuggets, such as a fraction of a user's handle. Instead, use Google books, which restricts the search to published works, where the number of results will be a more reliable indicator.

For example, typing "just a friendly advice" into Google returns roughly 1,000,000 hits! Surely one million hits can't be wrong, right? Well, let's look at a few of these (the text I have bolded may help indicate the reliability of the wording):

From a message board:
Just a friendly advice!
So, here’s an advice.. Quitting is hard, but don't give up! The easily stop smoking worldwide program , Nosmoq was proven to be the easiest, most effective and possible real herbal treatment of smoking for just 4 to 7 days

From a message board:
Re: WHOA! - Just a friendly advice
IMHO, I think is more self-explanatory to show crops at 1:1 ratio. An square helps to make a difference between the original and the crop at first sight.

From a cat:
Just a friendly advice: think veeery carefully about what you're going to do next.

From a message board:
Just a friendly advice for those faulting their R6
So back when I first started riding with an 88FZ750 it always died on me. So much that I always had jumper cables and a set of tools on me. Now with my R6 I don't need the cables but I still carry a set of tools in case something does happen. Today was that day. On my way to work my bazaar unit crapped out and died leaving me with error 39 on the Side of the road. It was early morning so tech support were still sleeping. I didn't want to pay towing fees so I proceeded to remove the whole bazaar harness on the road, or just enough to get to work and home. After about 30 min I rewired the lower injectors back to stock and she fired right up! Not runnin perfect but she still gets to places. It was also 90 out at 8am so having water helps.

As for that last one, I'd love to have that guy stop to help me on the side of the road, but I wouldn't want him proofreading my term paper.

Moving the search to Google books cuts the number of results down from roughly a million to a very small handful.

Some may claim there is "nothing wrong" with it; I suppose that would depend on what was meant by "wrong." If I can say, "Just a friendly hint", shouldn't I also be able to say, "Just a friendly advice"? I suppose I could (after all, this writer did); however – discussion board titles notwithstanding – I think most hearers would find it awkward. I'd be more inclined to follow Robusto's guidance, which sounds much more natural to my ear.

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There's alot of poor grammar on the internet. – Ben Brocka Feb 10 '13 at 16:20
"Hearers?" How about "listeners" or "recipients?" (Or was that an attempt at irony?) – fluffy Feb 10 '13 at 16:53
@fluffy: No, no irony intended. (Is there something odd about "hearers"?) – J.R. Feb 10 '13 at 19:47
As a related question, why does "a little friendly advice" work but "a friendly advice" doesn't? – Luke Feb 10 '13 at 22:51
@Luke: Language is funny like that, isn't it? 8^) I think it's because the article is working with the word little there; see Meaning #14 at Collins. Similarly, this dictionary describes "a little" as an idiom. The phrase a little then, essentially means "some", so "a little friendly advice" comes off as "some friendly advice." – J.R. Feb 11 '13 at 0:32

On the topic of a friendly advice having 1,070,000 hits - some friendly advice gets 137,000,000 hits. In other words, the 1,070,000 million, despite the impresive number of digits, is a fraction of 1% of the total and therefore 1,070,000 mistakes.

Ngram confirms this.

Advice is uncountable, so it should be be "some friendly advice", which is reflected in the Ngram above.

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Your ngram starts in 1900. Looking at the 19th century might give a different view – Henry Feb 10 '13 at 18:01
@Henry: Looking at Victorian usage doesn't give a different view regarding current usage - it just shows that language changes over time. – FumbleFingers Feb 10 '13 at 18:25
Honestly, I think the numbers before 1900 are not statistically reliable, because they only consist of a handful of books. – orlp Feb 11 '13 at 0:24

Is "Just a friendly advice" grammatical?

Assuming you meant "grammatical" in its "grammatically correct" form, then... no. It isn't.

Advice is a non-countable noun and, as such, "an advice" is invalid. Injecting the adjective "friendly" does not change that.

Here are some correct equivalents:

  • Just a friendly piece of advice.
  • Just a friendly bit of advice.
  • Just a friendly morsel of advice.
  • Just some friendly advice.

The mistake you made, I think, was in trusting a Google hit count to suggest the correctness of an English phrase; a cursory glance across a few arbitrary websites indicates that this is silly.

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I don't get your remark about "grammatical". Did I misuse that word? M-W defines it as "conforming to the rules of grammar". – R C Feb 10 '13 at 18:58
@Roman: That's one of its forms; the other (which I find more intuitive) is "of or relating to grammar". I was simply pointing that out in a backwards way. :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 10 '13 at 19:42

Just a friendly advice cannot be said to be ungrammatical as advice is sanctioned as being at least pluralisable on occasion by both the AHD and Collins, and definitely count on occasion (sense 3) by Webster's.

It falls quite close, however, to Colourless green ideas sleep furiously - not breaking rules of grammar (unless context forces the usual non-count meaning of advice to be inferred) (which 'friendly' strictly doesn't) - but semantically unacceptable / needing freewheeling looseness in usage.

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The Oxford English Dictionary lists advice as a count noun:

2b. As a count noun. - (a) A piece of advice (sense 2a). Now chiefly Caribbean and S. Asian.

It lists usage back to the 13th century:

1418 in R. W. Chambers & M. Daunt Bk. London Eng. (1931) 195 (MED), The same Ordynaunce turnyd in-to englysche be the Avyces of the Fraternite.

Grammatically, if a countable advice is just a bit of uncountable advice, it makes perfect sense. However, as the OED indicates, this usage is no longer current in all dialects of English, and thus will seem odd, unidiomatic, or ungrammatical.

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