In my Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary the word 'throe' is not listed, only 'throes'. With other nouns, the dictionary clearly indicates whether nouns are countable or uncountable, however, with 'throes' it only indicates that it is plural.

I am sitting with a term paper in which I have to comment on the countability and number of a set of given nouns from a text. 'Throes' is one of these words and although it is 'death throes' in the context ('This sudden burst of activity was actually the Expedit in its death throes')only 'throes' is underlined as the one I should comment on.

Is the word 'throes' simply neither countable or uncountable? Is that possible? Or why does my dictionary not indicate it, as if it does not know it either? Has it something to do with 'death throes' being part of an idiom? I am unsure of the word and how I should comment. Hope someone can help me :)

  • 2
    Can you come up with a sentence where it makes any difference whether it is countable or not? (One would never say: *He had three death throes ... I counted them. So maybe that means it's not countable.) May 9, 2014 at 15:30
  • The fourth definition of reach (noun) in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary shares the property with throes that it's always plural, and very hard to come up with a sentence where it makes any difference whether it's countable or uncountable, and it similarly is not marked as to whether it's uncountable or countable. I would try using a different dictionary. May 9, 2014 at 16:02
  • 'Throe' is listed as a singular (and I must deduce a count) noun by AHD. Collins lists solely 'throes' and indicates plural agreement. I'd say throes is used far more frequently than throe, and as a non-count noun or perhaps a noun only used in fixed idioms and thus neither count nor really mass (cf 'in his cups', 'weigh anchor', 'trip the light fantastic'). May 9, 2014 at 20:39
  • @EdwinAshworth: For what it's worth, the singular does see some use, for example "Leave mere fools to tax // Art's high-strung brain's intentness ass so lax // That, in its mid-throe, idle fancy sees // The moment for admittance!" -- Robert Browning, With Francis Furini; other similar examples are easily found.
    – psmears
    Oct 20, 2016 at 13:47
  • @PeterShor: While rare, there are cases where it can make a difference (apart from the fact that non-count nouns are only pluralised in specific circumstances). For example, in the title of "In the Throe of Wonder", the "the" is essential (and "*In Throe of Wonder" would be ungrammatical); with a non-count noun that would not be the case.
    – psmears
    Oct 20, 2016 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


"Throes" is much like the word "seas" when used in the phrase "high seas". You don't count "high seas" and you don't count "throes". It seems there are number of plural words which deal with generality, and not specificity. In "the travails of life" we don't count how many travails there are, because we don't really know. We just know there are many of them.


Countable noun:

throes: throes [ θrouz ] noun the final/last/death throes of something the last stages of something, just before it ends, usually when it is ending badly...

Throe: Throe Throe, n. [OE. [thorn]rowe, [thorn]rawe, AS. [thorn]re['a] a threatening, oppression, suffering, perhaps influenced by Icel. [thorn]r[=a] a throe, a pang, a longing; cf. AS. [thorn]reowian to suffer.] 1. Extreme pain; violent pang; anguish; agony; especially, one of the pangs of travail in childbirth, or purturition. [1913 Webster] Prodogious motion felt, and rueful throes. --Milton. [1913 Webster]

  • 1
    Maybe I am not familiar with your links but I don't see anything there that suggests it is a countable noun. The idea of having "three death throes" sounds odd to me.
    – MrHen
    May 19, 2014 at 14:14
  • @MrHen: "three throes" is uncommon, but thousand throes is used (mostly in a poetic turn of phrase, it would have to be said).
    – psmears
    Oct 21, 2016 at 15:33

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