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Why is it that the "age" is used as an uncountable noun in some cases and as a countable noun in other circumstances?

Examples:

  • Now the market is not booming, and the employers are switching their schemes to make sure they pay less and their workers get less too. The problem has nothing to do with too much tax or too few incentives. The problem is that security in old age depends increasingly on the vagaries of the stock market.

  • If you have hobbies, you mix with a wide variety of people through that & often socialize with them. If you work somewhere & go for a drink after work, you probably do so with people of a different age to you within that.

Examples from OED:

he must be nearly 40 years of age; children of primary school age, his voice improves with age.

Here "age" is uncountable.

  • It's getting to the point where a question along the lines of 'Why isn't N used in both count and non-count usages?' might be more realistic. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 30 '15 at 14:33
  • @Edwin Ashworth I thought, maybe there were certain rules indicating that age is uncountable in the following types of collocations.. and countable when we mean.... – user128024 Aug 30 '15 at 15:17
  • Examples from OED: he must be nearly 40 years of age; children of primary school age. Here "age" is uncountable. – user128024 Aug 30 '15 at 15:18
  • The count / non-count question is not as simple as it looks. 'There was a bright light all around' is almost certainly best regarded as non-count (*two bright lights all round?) after an indefinite article. When it comes to idioms (weigh anchor / break camp / allow free rein / bite the bullet / of a certain age ...), the whole notion of countness becomes a minefield. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 30 '15 at 16:07
  • @Edwin Ashworth * Sigh * I realize, there are things that are not easy to explain :( – user128024 Aug 30 '15 at 18:15
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Mostly, age used in characterising individuals is countable.

Old age is a set phrase. There are a number of other expressions of the same shape, mostly obsolescent, such as mature age, marriagable age; but these are only used with of: of mature age etc.

As for why, that is no more answerable than most questions about why in language.

  • Thank you. Could you explain whether "people of various ages" and "people of a various age" are equally correct. – user128024 Aug 30 '15 at 11:49
  • "A various anything" is incoherent, as "various" requires plurality. "People of a various age" is nonsense to me. – Colin Fine Aug 30 '15 at 14:28
  • I was told that we could say "people of a different age" (english.stackexchange.com/questions/268324/…). I don't understand whether "people of a different age" and "people of various ages" are the same in meaning or they are different in meaning? – user128024 Aug 30 '15 at 15:34
  • People of a different age to me means unambiguously "people of a different age from what we have just been discussing".. People of different ages and People of various ages both mean "people who are not all the same age". – Colin Fine Aug 30 '15 at 20:00

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