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[original question] Do any words words exist that are a countable and an uncountable noun at the same time?

  • Are there any nouns that are both countable and uncountable?

  • Are there any words which are uncountable and uncountable at the same time?

closed as off-topic by Mari-Lou A, Edwin Ashworth, tchrist, ermanen, user66974 Mar 1 '15 at 10:50

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    Here is a good list with notes on usage: englishclub.com/ref/Nouns_that_are_Count_and_Noncount – Mari-Lou A Feb 28 '15 at 7:58
  • As discussed before, some usages (A soft light suffused the glade) seem to exhibit both count (taking an indefinite article) and non-count (*Two soft lights suffused ...) properties at once. I'd say this is gradience rather than hybridism. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 28 '15 at 9:20
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Among other things, just about any liquid could be a countable and uncountable (mass) noun in the same word. Take beer, for example.

Give me some beer. [mass noun]

Give us five beers. [count noun]

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    "I'll have a carbon tetrachloride, please, plus three more for my friends here". – Erik Kowal Feb 28 '15 at 8:56
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    @ErikKowal: "D'ye want water back, sir?" – Robusto Feb 28 '15 at 11:52
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Almost anything normally uncountable - certainly it applies to most food items - can be made countable if one uses a simple plural as an alternative to varieties of. e.g. There are countless cheeses (Varieties of cheese), whiskies, wines, beers, yoghurts, breads, meats, hams, etc.

It can also apply as substitute in the case of bottles of, jars of, cups of etc. Five beers is too many! How many whiskies has he drunk? Two coffees please.

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I was once told that nouns are either countable or uncountable. Then I learned that some nouns can be used as both countable or uncountable. Now, I don't think I have encountered a so-called uncountable noun that cannot also be used as a countable noun. Sometimes this involves a change in meaning (the speed of light; the lights on my Christmas tree; Time flies; how many times have I told you that?), sometimes it means a kind or serving of uncountable noun (a coffee, a beer).

  • How about "Call driver to pick me up"? "Call some driver" means some specific driver, not a continuously variable quantity of driver. – Ben Kovitz Feb 28 '15 at 11:53
  • In your first sentence, I think you are using a singular count noun without an article in an instruction/demonstration/recipe type setting. Dip cookie in milk. Either that or you gots plane badd English. @Ben – pazzo Feb 28 '15 at 12:08
  • I mean that "driver" doesn't want to be treated as a mass noun. (It could done in extraordinary circumstances, though. Maybe I heard it done once, ago December…) Then again, your point was the other way around. – Ben Kovitz Feb 28 '15 at 12:16
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The nouns which can be countable or uncountable depending on the context are originally pluralia tantum, i.e. uncountable. But they can be used in singular if there is a portion of the substance referred by the noun.

The sun was blazing and there was no pool in view. He dreamed of a motel and a barman who could give him a water.

Mother always told her daughter that carbonated drinks are harmful but she would always order a coke having a snack in a cafe.

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    In the first context I would rather opt for He was dying for some water rather than a [glass of] water. – Mari-Lou A Feb 28 '15 at 11:28
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    @Mari-Lou: But if there had been a pool, there might have been poolside attendants and other staff. In which case instead of dying of dehydration, he could simply have gasped "Waiter! Bring me a water, please!". – FumbleFingers Feb 28 '15 at 13:38
  • Yeah, some water might be better. But as for the pool, the word denotes primarily a natural reservoir of lentic water. – Евгений Шумилин Mar 1 '15 at 12:35
  • I might say a water now. :) A pool can be any body of water, but usually we tend to think of a swimming pool. – Mari-Lou A Mar 1 '15 at 13:06
  • @Mari-Lou: A puddle can be a good substitute to the pool then, I guess. – Евгений Шумилин Jul 2 '15 at 19:01

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