We know that there is no plural form of the "uncountable noun," but, for example, we write:

His sufferings force us to retain pity for him.

Is it possible to make an uncountable noun plural? If so, please explain it.

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    What makes you think "sufferings" are uncountable? Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 18:11
  • then?countable?but how sir? Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 18:16
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    Why do you think it's not countable? Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 18:18
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    Sure we can. "Right now I am dealing with two sufferings: a headache and a heartache." It's not exactly standard anymore, but it's perfectly correct. See also: books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=sufferings Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 18:26
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    It's always wrong to take a life because life is precious. The lives of many have been cut short. That being said, how lucky are cats to have nine lives?
    – njboot
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 19:50

2 Answers 2


"[W]e know that there is no plural form of 'uncountable noun' ..."

Do we really?

[I'm taking this preamble to read 'we know that mass nouns are always singular' in line with the statement below: ' ... the idea that mass nouns are always singular has been part of conventional wisdom ever since Bloomfield (1933)'.]

Peter Lasersohn, in Mass Nouns and Plurals, writes:

[One] issue is whether the term 'mass' should be understood broadly enough to include some morphologically plural examples. Jespersen argued that a wide range of plural nouns were actually mass, including examples such as

victuals, oats, brains (in the sense exemplified in blow out somebody’s brains), dregs, lees, proceeds, measles, mumps, hysterics, blues, creeps, and others.

We may note that these impose plural agreement on the verb, but (under the relevant reading) combine with much rather than many:

(8) a. In this kind of work, brains are less important than guts.

b. It doesn’t take much brains to figure this out.

Here again Bloomfield (1933) introduced a shift in terminology, stipulating that mass nouns “have no plural,” without providing discussion of Jespersen’s examples; the idea that mass nouns are always singular has been part of conventional wisdom ever since.

Plural mass nouns have been periodically rediscovered (McCawley 1975, Gillon 1992 ), and are treated in detail in Ojeda (2005). Some authors (e.g. Gleason 1965: 135) consider such examples to be neither count nor mass, but a third category.

Even if we recognize some morphologically plural examples as mass nouns, it should be noted that they, like morphologically singular mass nouns, lack a number distinction; in these examples it is simply the singular which is “missing” rather than the plural.

I don't think that anyone would reckon the noun clothes, which takes a plural verb, to be a count noun. Wikipedia [tidied] comments:

mass nouns such as "water" or "furniture", with which only singular verb forms are used : the constituent matter is handled in a grammatically nondiscrete way (although it may ["water"] or may not ["furniture"] be etically nondiscrete)

And, though garments can be counted and so 'clothes' is etically discrete, it is not handled as a typical count noun accepting numerals.

Although there are rare examples of 'sufferings' (as indeed for 'furnitures' and 'waters') which show true count behaviour (eg 'The Three Sufferings – Balanced Holistic Weight Management'), the plural mass-noun usage equivalent to 'what he has gone / is going through' is far more common and is almost certainly the intended usage here. Consider: one would do a double-take on seeing say "three trials and tribulations".

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    There are a lot of varieties of noun, and Mass/Count is not really an open/shut matter. Massification and countification are both quite common. Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 18:37
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    @EdwinAshworth: I'm not sure what your point is. McCawley, Gillon and Ojeda, and Jespersen are not saying anything about plural forms of uncountable nouns; rather, they're talking about nouns that are both plural and uncountable. The distinction is fundamental, and the OP was asking about the former (or thought (s)he was).
    – ruakh
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 14:47
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    @ ruakh Before one starts trying to distinguish between 'plural forms of uncountable nouns' and 'nouns that are both plural and uncountable', one has to define plural forms of nouns, uncountable nouns, and plural nouns. Ojeda spells out the problem: 'clothes' [being both 'a mass noun' and 'a plural noun'] is ... an embarrassment for semantic theory. ... In short, clothes should refer to discrete entities taken in bulk rather than collectively and, at the same time, to discrete entities taken collectively rather than in bulk. This embarrassing predicament is the paradox of mass plurals. Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 18:38
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    [Wikipedia]: 'In linguistics, a mass noun or uncountable noun is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets.' BUT '... mass nouns such as furniture and cutlery, which represent more easily quantified objects, show that the mass/count distinction should be thought of as a property of the terms themselves, rather than as a property of their referents.'>> We could start by distinguishing 'nouns specifying >1 discrete referents' from 'nouns taking a plural verb'. Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 18:50
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    Right, as plural nouns lacking inflectional singulars, my clothes are and my cattle are are categorically different because just as you can say that some of your cattle are, you can also say one of my cattle is by making a periphrastic singular: it's as easy to count cattle as sheep. But you can no more do that with your clothes than you can with your clothing. They strongly resist any attempt to do anything to them that involves counts, whether singular or plural. You cannot say two of your clothes or two of your clothing, nor can you say one of your clothes or one of your clothing.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 19:36

"While uncountable nouns do not generally take a plural form, sometimes they may be pluralized when used in a countable sense."**

Uncountable nouns are usually singular, but not always. It's not a catch-all rule by any means, especially when discussing abstract nouns used in the countable sense. Take this example:

He has sympathy for the sufferings of his fellow countrymen.

You can't quantify the suffering of each countryman. Thus, you can't quantify the sufferings of the countrymen either. Nonetheless, each one suffers. So, when the countrymen are considered as a whole, each one's suffering amounts to their sufferings.

Though general rules regarding the countable/uncountable distinction are valid, there are many exceptions and the context is important. Here's a good example:

It's always wrong to take a life [countable singular] because life [uncountable singular] is precious. The lives [uncountable plural] of many have been sadly cut short. That being said, how lucky are cats to have nine lives [countable plural]?

  • No. This confuses terminology, and analysis. It only makes sense to analyse usages, not nouns, as count or non-count. Many if not all nouns used normally in non-count contexts may be countified. Also, 'data' say is plural-form but usually singular in construction (as is 'confetti'); it is unhelpful to label these either just 'plural' or 'singular'. Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 11:59

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