Does American English allow the use of "email" as a mass noun, in such a way that it is not uncommon to hear any such of the following phrases from native speakers?

I've still got a huge backload of email I'm trying to get through.

I've forwarded without comment a couple of pieces of email that I received overnight.

There's one last piece of email to read.

On average, three to six pieces of email are returned to the library every week.

Billions and billions of pieces of email are transmitted daily.

How much email do you have in your inbox?

Are you sending too much or too little email to prospects?

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    Usage as mass noun is indeed current, especially in the phrase "check my e[-]mail." Your first example and your last two would pass current, I think. The ones containing the expression piece[s] of email, however, are less likely, since the option to use the term as a count noun is in those cases more economical. – Brian Donovan Sep 26 '15 at 16:39
  • Ngram suggests that email is used as an uncountable noun. books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Sep 26 '15 at 16:40
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    I've never heard anyone say pieces of email...never. – michael_timofeev Sep 26 '15 at 17:14
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    I always use email as a mass noun, and refer to individual instances as an email message. As the word email is analogous to "mail", I don't use it in the plural. If you wouldn't say "I {received/sent} four mails today.", why would you say "I {received/sent} four emails today."? – Brian Hitchcock Sep 27 '15 at 6:25
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    @marylou: but that's not what this question is about. And my comment was not directed at Medica (as you might notice, I fidn't mention the words get, got, or gotten. But now that you mention it, I'm surprised, Medica, that anyone would seriously think that a typical AmE response might be "My sincere apologies. Let me double-check that directly! (That was tongue-in-cheek, was it not, Medica? If I heard that in California, I would take it as heavy sarcasm.) – Brian Hitchcock Sep 28 '15 at 8:52

(AE "allows" anything you like.)

The question is whether an AE speaker understands this or that, or perhaps whether most AE speakers understand it, or perhaps whether some or many or most use it when speaking.

And yes, email is used as both a countable noun and a collective noun. Both too much email and three emails (or three mails or three messages) are used. It is not uncommon to hear it used in any of these ways.

To satisfy @JanusBahsJacquet and anyone else who might be in doubt: If someone said "pieces of email" s?he would be understood, but a native speaker would be unlikely to use that phrase. It is, in particular, the "pieces" that is unusual. "Messages of email" would pass (though it is a bit redundant). Even "items of email" might pass.

But when referring to individual instances, we generally use email (or message or mail) itself, as a countable noun. Simpler.

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    Your answer could be improved by mentioning that, despite e-mail being able to act both as countable and uncountable, piece(s) of e-mail is not commonly heard. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 26 '15 at 19:09
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: I thought that went without saying, especially as it had already been mentioned. What I said was that "it is not uncommon to hear it used in any of these ways", by which I meant the ways that I mentioned (not any of the ways listed in the question). – Drew Sep 26 '15 at 21:45
  • Always best to assume nothing goes without saying (especially because it had only been mentioned in comments, which are subject to deletion without warning, so if someone who sees the page in six months’ time, there may not be any mention of it at all). :-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 26 '15 at 21:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: OK, I mentioned it. – Drew Sep 26 '15 at 21:55
  • There's a tiny typo in your otherwise fine answer: s?he – Mari-Lou A Sep 28 '15 at 4:51

"Three pieces of email" conveys a slightly different message from "three emails".

If you ask me when I'm going to be free for lunch and I reply "I've got three pieces of email to check first", this implies that they are generic emails, and I likely don't even know what the subjects are. "I've got three emails to check first", on the other hand, implies that I likely have at least looked at their subject lines already.

In the first case odds are reasonably good that the three are all junk or, at the very least, somehow deferrable, so it will only take a couple of minutes.

In the second case, since I've likely looked at them already, I know that they're not junk, and there's a chance that some will take at least several minutes to respond to or otherwise handle. It could be a half hour or more before I'm free for lunch.

These are the sort of subtle clues that one misses when looking only at the literal definitions and equivalences of words, believing that one can be freely substituted for another.


I always used to hear "email" as countable word.

"I have got three new emails" is always said by English native speakers. I have realy never heard someone who told for example "I have a got a piece of email"

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