2

From an outsider, I think advice and suggestion have similar meanings.

But I don't understand why the noun suggestion is countable whereas advice isn't. We can ask:

  1. Can you give me two or three suggestions on how to improve my English?

But not

  1. Can you give me two or three advices on how to improve my English?

In order for sentence 2 to be considered grammatical, we have to say

  1. Can you give me two or three pieces of advice...

Which seems redundant to me.

Is there an explanation behind this difference?

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  • The noun advice is used as a mass noun which is uncountable. A piece of advice, two pieces of advice are broadly used when you need to count the number of advice. When it means a formal notice of a financial transaction, it is a countable noun. It is in the dictionary.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 6:26
  • Related question, “Advice” vs. “an advice” and So, “Some advice” or “some advices”? Which is correct?.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 6:34
  • 2
    The OP isn't asking how to use "advice" in a sentence, but why it is not countable if we consider that the noun suggestion, which has a similar meaning, is. I think it's a very valid question, and not one that can be answered by looking up in a dictionary.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 9:40
  • 2
    "Why" questions like this are rarely answerable with anything better than "because of tradition". There are not really any rules for countable vs. mass nouns.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 20:59
  • 1
    A hint, a tip, a pointer, an explanation, an idea, a recommendation; but information, logic, help, assistance, guidance. And some like justification, thought, reason can be either countable or mass nouns based on context. I daresay you could provide a basic historical description, or a classification, but none of it is really going to answer "why?"
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 16:46

3 Answers 3

1

It may help to consider the related verbs. The verb "to advise" can refer to providing a single piece of information, but it often refers to a prolonged process of helping someone. The verb "to suggest," meanwhile, always refers to a single event. So it makes sense that "suggestion" is a count noun, referring to the content of one such event, whereas "advice" is a noncount noun, referring to the entirety of what is provided over a period of time.

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Just because advice and suggestion have similar meanings doesn't mean they should be used similarly in terms of their usage.

Most English nouns can be used either way:

(1) He's allergic to peanuts.
(2) When's the best time to introduce foods containing peanut to babies?

Although the noun peanut is generally used as a count noun as in (1), you can use it as a non-count noun as in (2) when you don't have to count them in context.

The noun advice behaves like (2) because people don't need to count it in any context.

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  • ... 'Let me give you a couple of pieces of advice' (cf 'Let me give you a couple of suggestions') shows they do. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 11:15
  • @EdwinAshworth They do what?
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 11:33
  • The ... shows a follow-on. From 'The noun advice behaves like (2) because people don't need to count it in any context.' One could argue " 'Cattle' is non-count because ...". But one wouldn't. It's some accident of earlier usage. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 13:12
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for the clarification. But in your example, what they are counting is actually not "advice" itself but "piece", I think.
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 13:28
  • Yes, but that begs the question: why, when '[a] beer' = '[a] glass of beer' allowing the count / non-count duality, is 'an advice' is unavailable? Again, 'A couple of simple truths' = 'a couple of simple pieces of truth'. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 13:49
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The thing about language usage is that not every instance of it has to have a reason. No noun is literally uncountable. Non-count nouns, known more generally as 'mass' nouns, refer to what cannot be broken down into numerable items. Even in such a case there will be exception. Rain is generally a mass noun: we talk of heavy rain and even of the plural 'rains' as in "the rains haven't come this year. But we don't say "we only had eight rains this year". It sounds odd because we use that noun as a mass thing. But we might say "We have had two floods this year." Now arguably a flood is just as much a mass thing as is rain. And we can say "we had two or three downpours yesterday" even though a downpour can be thought of as mass sort of thing. It is strange and frustrating but that is language usage for you. It is how over the years we have heard first our parents and then others speaking over the years. That is what usage is. We literally have to get used to it.

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  • Sorry, Tuffy. Non-count nouns, known more generally as 'mass' nouns, usually refer to what cannot be broken down into numerable items.' 'Furniture', 'cutlery', 'cattle' and 'police' are always or almost always non-count, but of course refer to discrete, countable referents (12 chairs + 3 tables ... 15 items of furniture, etc). Countness and denumerability don't always correspond. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 13:00
  • @EdwinAshworth Erm, not quite. Cattle and police are plural only nouns, not non-count ones! Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 22:15
  • @Araucaria I take it you're citing CGEL. Note that for cattle, livestock, police, poultry, vermin CGEL license use with 'high round numerals (and hence [these] might be classified as 'quasi-count nouns'). They use the numeral-insertion test to determine countness. The above nouns fall into a grey area; 'quasi-noncount nouns' might be an alternative name for them. But folk, people are (a) non-count (b) not morphologically marked as plural (c) governing plural-form verbs only, and (d) relate etically to plural, denumerable sets of elements ('3 men and 6 women' etc). ... Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 11:33
  • Actually, I'd dispute the 'never count' classification for 'people' at least. '3 000 people' etc is quite common nowadays. // I think CGEL's 'does it accept numerals / equivalents like 'half a dozen'...?' test for countness (but speaking of individual usages in sentences rather than the noun itself) is the most sensible one I've come across. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 11:33

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