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I stumbled upon a video having this phrase in its narration, "[The university] has been equipped with computer network, electric systems, and internet".

Personally, I never use "network" as a mass noun like the above usage. If it were me, I would rather use "equipped with computer networks", or "equipped with computer network access".

Anyway, it made me curious...

Is such a usage good English?

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Funny you don't mention the simple alternative "equipped with a computer network" but do propose two others that don't really fit the bill. "Computer network access" is wordy and doesn't even mean the same thing, while "computer networks" is obviously plural, not one (so again, it doesn't mean the same thing). That detracts from your actual question, unnecessarily. –  RegDwigнt Nov 9 '12 at 20:33
    
The phrase "equipped with a computer network" actually did cross my mind, admittedly. But I found myself hard to believe any university would have really been equipped with just one network. Lots and lots of subnets is more like it, don't you think? –  Damkerng T. Nov 9 '12 at 20:48
    
@RegDwighт Whether it's "computer networks" or "a computer network" is a factual question: Does the university have one network or many. I'd guess they probably have more than one, but I guess that depends how big an institution it is, etc. –  Jay Nov 9 '12 at 21:08
    
I don't see anything particularly unusual about this usage. So far as I'm concerned, the indefinite article has simply been dropped from "a computer network", in much the same way as most of these instances of "equipped with kitchen, bathroom, {and other facilities}". No-one would suppose that implies kitchen, bathroom, etc. are "mass nouns". –  FumbleFingers Nov 9 '12 at 21:25
    
I followed your link and found that all the hits are advertisements. In advertisements, such an omission might sound okay, even though the quantity can be obscured at times, e.g., "this spacious eight-bed apartment-hostel is well-equipped with kitchen, bathroom, washing machine, and internet access", from books.google.co.uk/…, don't make me believe that the hostel is really equipped with a kitchen, a bathroom, a washing-machine, and internet access. The use of computer network bugged me since it's a documentary. –  Damkerng T. Nov 10 '12 at 2:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think network is indeed being used as a kind of mass noun here. The university has been equipped with computer network . . . differs from The university has been equipped with a computer network . . . in the same way that The floor is covered with carpet differs from The floor is covered with a carpet. But it seems to work only when followed by the other items.

EDIT:

EDIT: On reflection, I think this may not be a matter of whether network is a mass noun at all. Instead, it seems to me as if the absence of an article (the zero article) creates a generic reference in which network ‘refers to the whole class, rather than just one or more instances of the class’ ('Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English', p. 72).

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Maybe I am wrong, but I was taught that the "zero article" does not exist in English, except for some common expressions (e.g., I go to school by bus., which has two zero articles), even though it is quite common in many other Romance languages. I believe that English has no hard and fast rules for the zero article, but I'm not very sure. –  Damkerng T. Nov 10 '12 at 9:45
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As well as being used to express generic reference, the zero article is found in many contexts in English. They include those which describe meals and places as institutions; means of transport and communication; and days, months and seasons. It is also found in parallel structures, block language and vocatives. –  Barrie England Nov 10 '12 at 9:53
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I have a feeling that the question might be overlooked by native speakers as something very trivial, akin to breathing. However, I would say that it is one of the most difficult obstacles for ESL students: the articles. The basic rules are simple enough, and match most of the real-life usages. But there are too many cases that those simple rules seem not to apply. Zero article with a singular countable noun is one of them. I see them all the time, even from respectable sources. (Sorry, can't cram them in the remaining 67 characters here.) -- I really think the down-vote is a bit unfair. –  Damkerng T. Nov 11 '12 at 7:12
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You're the only one who mentioned zero article, so I accept your answer. Anyway, I don't think the narration doesn't have parallel structure, nor it's block language, and it's definitely not vocative. Thank you again. –  Damkerng T. Nov 11 '12 at 7:17
    
Thank you. It was a good question and didn't deserve the downvote. –  Barrie England Nov 11 '12 at 7:57

No, "network" just isn't a mass noun, and that usage in your example is incorrect.

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businessdictionary defines network in part as below: Definitions 1. Computers: A group of interconnected (via cable and/or wireless) computers and peripherals that is capable of sharing software and hardware resources between many users. The Internet is a global network of networks. businessdictionary.com/definition/network.html#ixzz2BlGmGQqW . Until the Internet is mentioned, all concrete and dandy, but labelling the Internet as a network really takes us into overlap with abstractions. Abstract nouns often have both count and non-count usages. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 9 '12 at 21:01
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My guess is that somebody just made a typo and left of the "a". If this was written by someone for whom English is not his first language, that would be even less surprising. –  Jay Nov 9 '12 at 21:10

It is singular, but collective, so the sentence doesn't have parallel structure.

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I just went through many references on the web, and now realize that I should have titled the question Can "network" be a collective noun? instead. To me, the phrase equipped with computer network seems to be a carryover from a similar construct equipped with kitchen, bedroom, etc. usually found in block language. I am not sure that besides words like family, committee, etc., every countable noun can be used collectively. (I don't think so.) –  Damkerng T. Nov 10 '12 at 10:22

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