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Though I am not sure, I believe the noun "interest" is uncountable, hence using an indefinite article before that must be incorrect, yet it sounds so weird without it. Which one is correct? My limited knowledge leads me to the latter, however, my ears lead me to the first one.

Happy Holidays,

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Nigel J, Scott, curiousdannii, Rand al'Thor Dec 20 '17 at 12:39

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  • This is not a simple "rule" thing. The two are very close, but there is a difference in connotation. I hope someone nails the distinction - it's actually an interesting question. – Drew Dec 19 '17 at 22:51
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The choice is yours. However, keoxkeox, the rule about so-called countable and uncountable was never intended to cover all the nouns there are. It covers a difference between such stuff as water, air or grass, which can only be measured by mass or , etc., (so such nouns are often called mass nouns) and things, like pebbles, nuts and houses that can be counted (so such nouns are often referred to as count nouns). With interest, the issue of counting versus measuring does not arise,

Even where it does, this distinction is beginning to break down. “I’ll have two cokes, three lagers and two waters, please” can regularly be heard in many a bar. The customer is not unconsciously thinking ‘glasses of’, or ‘bottles of’.

So ‘showing an interest’ and ‘showing interest’ are equally familiar expressions.

I do not know if this is a relevant consideration. But There is a difference between English and other European languages: The indefinite article is not the number 1. In French, German, Italian and Greek it is. Mind you, they all say un café, ein café, uno espresso, or ένα καφεδάκι . So perhaps my point is not relevant.

  • No. The countification of hitherto solely non-count nouns results in count usages (I'll have three coffees, please. / The two major coffees are arabica and robusta.) But in 'Bill showed an interest in microbiology', 'interest' is still non-count as 'Bill/they showed two interests in ...' is ungrammatical. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 20 '17 at 0:21
  • @EdwinAshworth Certainly it is not a count noun and so is non-count in your terms. I agree. I differ from your distinction between what I understand you to be calling a standard use and (presumably non-standard) “usages”. ‘Usage’ describes all uses that are common enough to be recognised by a reputable dictionary or grammar (and even this begs the question what or who determines what is reputable). I do think that the grammar of the English language has departed too far from its European cousins for the grammatical terminology derived from the grammar and accidence of Latin be helpful. – Tuffy Dec 20 '17 at 11:42
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    CGEL defines count usages as those which may be preceded by a numeral without causing grammatical or semantic problems. Others are non-count. So 'Lager is less popular today' and 'Bill showed an interest in maths' are non-count usages, and 'I'll have a lager / two lagers, please' is a count usage. Some would consider 'furniture' a disputable case, depending on whether they see the 'types of' countification established yet ('Louis XV and Louis XVI are two very different furnitures'). // If you have an authority with different terminology / analysis, it needs to be included in an answer on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 20 '17 at 22:44
  • @EdwinAshworth There is always room for agreement. Count/non-count goes back to the early 20thC and was most discussed in the context of logic and set theory, which is where I came from. The OE Grammar (4.5) has 2 good pages on the topic, of which a 3rd is about exceptions, usefully classified: different meanings (light/lights); the noun refers to different types (wines/cheeses); or obvious standard measures (2 coffees). So far we agree. My point is that the rule is rapidly being swamped by exceptions, which are too many to help the non-expert. At best it needs to be rethought. – Tuffy Dec 21 '17 at 10:03
  • CGEL have rethought it, and defined terms. You may not like / agree with their terminology, but it is workable, unlike that used by most dictionaries and school grammars. / Nouns in fixed expressions (like kick the bucket) are often ones I struggle with; with these, I usually stop analysis at the idiom (string) level. / There has been a discussion of the use of indefinite articles with non-count (CGEL) usages on ELU, as well as one on 'quasi-count nouns' (2000 police, but not 2 police). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 21 '17 at 10:20

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