All major English dictionaries say that consesnsus is uncountable, but right under this warning they provide example sentences like the following:"We reached a consesnsus." How come?

  • Some nouns are both countable and uncountable, eg "love" as in "a love that dare not speak its name". – Francis Davey Apr 5 '17 at 8:59
  • consensus: noun, plural consensuses. [dictionary.com/browse/consensus] – mahmud k pukayoor Apr 5 '17 at 9:12
  • The more rigorous test (see Huddleston & Pullum) for count-noun usage is not whether an indefinite article may be used with the usage, but whether numerals may. As 'two ...', 'one ...', 'many consensuses' are not usually considered acceptable, this is a non-count usage. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 5 '17 at 9:22
  • "Consensus" is a non-count noun. The presence of the article "a" does not mean the noun is countable. A noun is only a count noun if it can combine with the cardinal numbers "one, two, three" etc. A few non-count nouns (like "regard", "knowledge" and "consensus") can combine with "a", but that doesn't mean they are count nouns; they are non-count nouns. – BillJ Apr 5 '17 at 9:25
  • Consensus can be countable. The consensus amongst doctors is that medicine should be the highest paid profession, but the consensus amongst hospital managers is that management should be. How do we reconcile these two consensuses? Or a third consensus amongst teachers about pay in education. . – davidlol Apr 5 '17 at 10:53

Consensus can either be singular or noncountable.

As in the following examples from Learner's Dictionary:

Singular Examples:

The (general) consensus (of the group) was to go ahead with the plan.

Scientists have not reached a consensus on the cause of the disease. [=scientists do not yet agree about the cause of the disease]

There is a growing consensus [=more and more people agree] about/on the need for further investigation.

What is the consensus of opinion among the experts? [=what do the experts all say?]

Noncount examples

Everyone on the council seems to understand the need for consensus.

There is a lack of consensus among the citizens.

The decision was made by consensus

When you use the singular the emphasis is placed on the individual consensus. Perhaps the consensus took much time to hammer out, perhaps there was much compromise on the way, regardless the singular form places the reader's attention on the individual consensus, and the specifics associated with that unique consensus.

The uncounted form instead places the emphasis more abstractly on the fact that consensus was reached, needs to be reached, etc.

  • Ask yourself this: can "consensus" combine with the cardinal numbers "one, two, three" etc. If it can, it's a count noun; if not it's a non-count noun. Can you say "three consensuses"? Of course not, at least not in the example given. "Consensus" can only be a non-count noun. – BillJ Apr 5 '17 at 9:31

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