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Given the sentence

The use of apples instead of pears is unexpected in the dish.

I don't think we can use apple instead of apples. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) But then, how come we can say the following?

  • I need a change of hotel.
  • A change of situation will give another result.

In the above two cases, both hotel and situation are countable nouns. Why is the indefinite article omitted before them?

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Thanks RegDwight. I'm a new comer and don't know if I can edit the posted question. Anyway, thanks for your help. :) – Felix Wong Feb 22 '13 at 11:46
That's simple. There's an "edit" link directly under your question and before the comments. (And now I see you've found it yourself already.) – RegDwigнt Feb 22 '13 at 12:06

The terms "a countable noun" or "an uncountable noun" don't work well applied to given words, but rather to given uses. Note that those dictionaries that state whether a noun is countable, uncountable, or both, will often do so per sense rather than per lemma.

"The use of apple" would have been perfectly valid; it would apply to apple as a substance. Likewise "instead of pears" would also have been valid, referring to the fruit as individual, countable items, rather than as a substance. Indeed, some would disapprove of the sentence mixing the two different approaches; preferring either "apples instead of pears" or "apple instead of pear".

Hotel and situation are both being used as countable nouns, to modify the (countable) noun change to indicate what the change is of. In this case we use the singular because we need to change one hotel or one situation (that we need to change it for another hotel and situation respectively, does not affect this). If I was concerned with several hotels (say I was organising a conference and therefore had to deal with more than one) I might express a desire for "a change of hotels".

Even though we are using them as countable, we don't use an article, because of their modifying role. It's comparable to how we would say "a trouser press" (the article applies to press not to trouser) or "trouser presses" (no article because presses is plural, singular trouser used even though trousers is normally plural).

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