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Content or contents — when do I use which form?

I realize that the one is the plural form of the other, but they seem to be used interchangeably.

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You should be aware where you're using it.

According to ldoce:

  • contents [plural] : 1) the things that are inside a box, bag, room etc 2) the things that are written in a letter, book etc

She kept the contents of the letter a secret.

  • content [singular] the amount of a substance that is contained in something, especially food or drink

water with a low salt content

  • content [singular, uncountable]: the ideas, facts, or opinions that are contained in a speech, piece of writing, film, programme etc

The content of the media course includes scripting, editing, and camera work.

  • content [singular, uncountable]: the information contained in a website, considered separately from the software that makes the website work

The graphics are brilliant. It’s just a shame the content is so poor.

  • 18
    To summarize: if it's countable, it's plural. – Malvolio Feb 21 '11 at 19:05
  • @Malvolio: That's an easy enough rule, I shall remember it. – Tomalak Feb 21 '11 at 19:33
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    So what form would I use if I have multiple pieces of content for a book or a web site? Content items? Or just content? – NightOwl888 Feb 8 '15 at 17:18
  • @Malvolio The contents of a letter is (are?) countable? That sounds wrong. You mean the words? Then I can also count the frames in a movie. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Dec 11 at 15:01
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The New Oxford American Dictionary entry for content has:

1. (usu. contents) the things that are held or included in something: he unscrewed the top of the flask and drank the contents | he picked up the correspondence and scanned the contents.

• [usually in singular] the amount of a particular constituent occurring in a substance: milk with a low-fat content.

2. the substance or material dealt with in a speech, literary work, etc., as distinct from its form or style: the outward form and precise content of the messages.

So, it tends to be used in the plural, except in certain particular cases.

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    Note that in a book, the "content" usually refers to all the text in the book, but the "contents" (or "table of contents") usually refers to the list of chapters :-) – psmears Feb 21 '11 at 18:07
  • So an editor edits content (of a book) irrespective of the number of books they edit? – Arun Oct 1 at 15:49

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