I've always found it a bit peculiar that Apple's marketing refers to iPhone without an article. There is a question here which discusses why it feels more natural to use an article, but I'm wondering what the actual grammatical status of the word "iPhone" would be.

Buy iPhone at your favorite Apple Retail Store.

My initial impression after reading this would be to interpret "iPhone" as its own plural, like "deer".

Now iPhone is even bigger on productivity.

Now it can't be exactly like "deer", as you would expect to see "iPhone are", "the iPhone" or "an iPhone".

So looking at both examples together, my next thought would be that perhaps "iPhone" is a mass noun, like "data". Substituting "data" in either sentence seems acceptable.

...we could have sold many more iPhones...

Now they've made "iPhone" plural. I'm not sure how you could fit "data" into this sentence other than the slightly odd "datums".

The new iPhones include iOS 8...

...and now "iPhone" finally has an article. The only word I can think of that can go in all of these sentences now is "coffee", but I'm not sure this is actually the same. "Coffee" seems to have the odd property that "a coffee" is different from "coffee", "a coffee" always means "some coffee in a vessel", and "coffees" is always the plural of the "a coffee" form even if you omit the article (as in "Coffees are expensive.", which is distinct from "Coffee is expensive.").

(All quotes were taken from official Apple correspondence, here and here.)

So what category does the noun "iPhone" fall under? Is it equivalent to "coffee"? (And if so, what exactly is going on with the different forms of "coffee"?)

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, FumbleFingers, tchrist, Nick2253, Kristina Lopez Jan 9 '15 at 19:02

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    iPhone is not a mass noun. iPhone is a proper noun. Like Jack or Tuesday or Moscow. I am not quite sure what you are after here. – RegDwigнt Jan 9 '15 at 12:23
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    Apple's 'Buy iPhone at your favorite Apple Retail Store.' is a quirky massification of what is naturally a count noun, doubtless to add gravitas to their wonderful creation. (Irony? What irony?) Look up articles here on 'countification' and 'massification'; for instance,the noun 'barbeque' in its various senses is actually discussed. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '15 at 12:24
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    iPhone is a proper, countable noun, nothing special. Regardless of how Apple writes about it, everyone else uses an article. "I got an iPhone for Christmas." "The camera is the best part of the iPhone 6 Plus." "Four months ago, when I reviewed the new iPhones, I called the 6 Plus the perfect..." – anongoodnurse Jan 9 '15 at 12:25
  • To quote John Lawler in one of the hits for an in-house search on 'massification': There is a very common construction in English that pluralizes mass nouns. Of course, mass nouns don't take plurals normally, but that's the point -- if an unused construction is floating around, it's very likely to be appropriated for special purposes. There is no grammatical difference; mass nouns [then] form plurals just like count nouns. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '15 at 12:30
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    Concorde (the plane) similarly didn't have an article. This usage may be intentional to create brand value. – MSalters Jan 9 '15 at 15:40

To judge from the syntax of your quotes alone, they could either be using it either as a mass noun or a proper noun.


Now iPhone is even bigger.

The clause works with a mass noun sense or proper noun, but not with a countable noun sense in either singular or plural form:

Now data is even bigger.

Now Boston is even bigger.

*Now teacup is even bigger.

*Now teacups is even bigger.

A mass noun is of course a sense where any amount of the thing it refers to is treated as part of a unit, rather than as one or more discrete elements.

A proper noun is a noun that refers to a single particular thing.

With a mass noun, we can have some of it. "I would like some iPhone". This does not seem to be used.

We generally capitalise proper nouns, but not always (the history of "for much of history" refers to a single thing without having a capital H). Even if we did capitalise all proper nouns, it's clear that iPhone is not used with normal English capitalisation conventions anyway.

So the way it's being used is as a proper noun; that iPhone is not a class of things, but a single thing of which the individual piece of plastic in your hand is merely an element or perhaps an avatar. As if it were not a product but a god. Which seems to match how Apple marketing refer to it too.

Or to be a bit less extreme in how we characterise their approach (though I'm not giving up entirely on the god thing): In terms of things we can buy or otherwise obtain from a company, proper nouns would be rare for goods, but is common for services (that Facebook and Twitter are used as proper nouns is not strange because it's more reasonable to consider them as single things identified by a proper noun), and Apple do tend to promote the idea that iPhone is a service as much as a product; that the services they provide that you can access with what most people will call "an iPhone" is in fact also part of "iPhone", and hence you are not paying of "an iPhone" or "some iPhone" but for "iPhone".

  • The proper noun consideration is incidental. 'Buy a Hoover'. 'We Buy Ford'. It's purely mass - count treatment (hopefully with a sound link to notionality). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '15 at 13:27
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    @EdwinAshworth but they don't use it as mass, they use it as referring to one single solitary lonesome thing. – Jon Hanna Jan 9 '15 at 13:28
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    Of course they're using it 'as mass'. Buy from that product range. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '15 at 13:31
  • @EdwinAshworth so if its used as a mass in "is even bigger" then I can get some iPhone? (For that matter would "We Buy Ford" not be using "Ford" as a proper noun to refer to the company of that name?) – Jon Hanna Jan 9 '15 at 13:38
  • Silence is often used as a mass noun (the ambience, state rather than a period of silence). So are jealousy, chill (coldness), flu The fact that one would rarely say 'I want some silence' etc doesn't matter. If you check the Wikipedia article mentioned elsewhere, it's syntax (agreement) that dictates the classification as 'count' or 'non-count' (probably a better term). The article also looks at the mismatch with notionality; furniture and water are usually used in non-count ways, but 'furniture' is etically countable. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '15 at 17:22

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