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While I know how to use the words that I use, I do not know if there is a term to describe words that are uncountable nouns, but at the same time are countable in other circumstances. "Cheese" is one example perhaps. I find researching this does not clarify anything - words seem to be countable and uncountable at the same time (depending on context) - is there a term for this or do we just have to accept the context rather than having an overriding term?

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No, there isn't any such term. Virtually all mass nouns can be used as if they were count nouns under certain circumstances, and vice versa. It's the circumstances that determine, not the nature of the noun itself. There are many subcategories of mass and count, each with their own peculiarities, and no reason for a special term that simply describes the normal situation. –  John Lawler May 24 '13 at 17:38
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I have come across such a usage - I think one dictionary (it might be Cobuild) uses 'mass noun' for that subset of non-count nouns that countify for different varieties (cheese, wine, rice, coffee...). (I'm not sure I'm allowed to use 'countify' ergatively. But I just have.) –  Edwin Ashworth May 24 '13 at 21:19
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@OC2PS When you're talking about types of cheese, according to the Longman dictionary. I suppose it works like the plural of fish (it only has one if you're 'counting' species of fish). But I do wonder if cheese could also be used as countable when you're talking about a whole unit, similar to 'an egg' vs 'some (scrambled) egg'. –  Sara Costa Jun 8 '13 at 14:03
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@SaraCosta You can count types of cheese (four cheese pizza), you can even add a unit and say four blocks of cheese. But cheese itself is not countable. –  OC2PS Jun 8 '13 at 17:40
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The phenomenon @JohnLawler points to is sometimes referred to as the "Universal Grinder" (notionally count nouns acting as mass nouns) or the "Universal Packager" (notionally mass nouns acting as count nouns). –  jlovegren Jun 9 '13 at 1:17

1 Answer 1

Cheese is not countable in any situation.

You can count types of cheese (four cheese pizza), you can even add a unit and say four blocks of cheese. But cheese itself is not countable.

Remember:

In English, uncountable nouns are characterized by the fact that they cannot be directly modified by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement, and that they cannot combine with an indefinite article (a or an).

Uncountable nouns CAN be modified by numbers if units of measurement are included.

Also, uncountable nouns can be used in English in the plural to mean "more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity" (refer to my four cheese pizza example)...

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Cheese can be a countable noun, e.g. There is a good selection of local cheeses in the local cheese shop. - see Longman. –  TrevorD Jun 8 '13 at 23:28
    
-1 As @JohnLawler said in a previous comment Virtually all mass nouns can be used as if they were count nouns under certain circumstances. Your definition appears to be quoting from somewhere: would you please provide the source? –  TrevorD Jun 8 '13 at 23:32
    
@TrevorD Your example is the same as mine - local cheeses is analogous to four cheese. –  OC2PS Jun 9 '13 at 0:54
    
No it's not. You wouldn't say four-chesses pizza. You're using cheese in the singular and as an adjective: I'm using it as a plural noun. (You haven't answered my question about the source of your definition.) –  TrevorD Jun 9 '13 at 11:44

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