I am a regular editor on Wikipedia and one of the things I do often is dealing with so-called "vandalism". I do this on many different language versions of Wikipedia and found out that in these other languages there are plural forms of the word "vandalism". For example:

  • French: "vandalisme" => "vandalismes"
  • Italian: "vandalismo" => "vandalismi"
  • Hungarian: "vandalizmus" => "vandalizmusok"

I could easily verify these on Wiktionary.

Now, when it comes to the English word "vandalism", I have always come to think of the term as uncountable, because I have almost never encountered the use of "vandalisms" in public usage. But on Wiktionary the entry "vandalism" is listed as this:


vandalism (countable and uncountable, plural vandalisms)

  1. Willful damage or destruction of any property with no other purpose than damage or destruction of said property.

As we turned down the street I was appalled by the vandalism; spray-paint and smashed windows that were everywhere.

Somehow I find the use of "vandalisms" very unnatural-sounding, yet a Google search quickly proves that such cases do exist:

The first of the above headlines could be written as "spate of vandalism" and not change the meaning, and the second could be "political sign thefts and vandalism" for the same reason. But in the third, "100 vandalism" would just not sound right, yet "100 vandalisms" would sound odd.

As a side note, the Wiktionary entry vandalization also lists the noun as both countable and uncountable, while the similar term cybervandalism is only uncountable.

All that being said, are there any rules as to when the word "vandalism" and its derived terms could be treated as countable nouns, and vice versa?

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    You have documented the existence and use of the plural 'vandalisms' and it appears that you object to it only on the ground that you, personally, find it 'unnatural-sounding'. I am not certain what it is that you are asking. The normal rules apply and I do not know why they would not. – Nigel J May 15 '18 at 4:01
  • Interestingly, none of the main dictionaries I've looked at indicate it's anything other than an uncountable mass noun. And Google Ngram shows very few instances of it being used in a plural sense. – Jason Bassford May 15 '18 at 5:49
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    "Vandalisms" may be a police and headline shortcut for cases (or instances) of vandalism. This sentence, from a 2015 book, seems confused: Chapter 4 develops the idea that conventional vandalisms of the young become normalised in certain contexts depending on the type of people who engage in its social practice. It wants to pluralize but can't hold on to the idea. – Xanne May 15 '18 at 6:10
  • Consulting a well-established dictionary would have been a good move first, but this was a little more interesting than it seemed so I ended up answering rather than just commenting with a link or two – Chris H May 15 '18 at 6:45
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    @Xanne Those news headlines would sound better with: cases of vandalism, rather than the plural. But it won't fit in a headline....so, they used the s. Newspaper headlines are not "normal usage" at all. They have their own "house rules" which the publication decides on. – Lambie May 16 '18 at 20:39

Lots of words in English have marginal "countable" or plural uses. (For a possible terminological distinction between these, see BillJ's comment "The fact that a noun has a plural form does not necessarily mean it is a count noun. The only test for a countability is whether it can combine with the cardinal numbers "one, two, three" etc.")

I think an important point to remember is that just because a particular form or usage technically exists, doesn't mean that it will sound natural. For example, the plural form hairs undoubtedly exists, but native English speakers would find it unnatural in a sentence like "She's going to get her hairs cut."

It is in many cases a simplification to say that some particular noun is strictly "uncountable" and never used in the plural, similar to how it is in many cases a simplification to say that some particular adjective is strictly "ungradable" and never used in the comparative or superlative.

In fact, semantic "coercion" can often cause supposedly "nongradable" adjectives to have gradable uses that sound acceptable to many speakers, or supposedly "uncountable"/"non-count"/"mass" nouns to have plural uses that sound acceptable to many speakers. So it's not all that helpful to have a yes-no answer to a question like "Is the word “vandalism” countable?", but if you really want one, the answer seems to be "yes (it can be)" (as you yourself seem to have discovered). The OED gives as its second definition of the noun vandalism

b. An instance of [vandalism]; a vandalistic act.

1882 W. Ballantine Some Exper. Barrister's Life xxii. 218 The vandalisms that have changed the fair scene..into its present shape.

That said, this is a very uncommon usage. I don't remember ever using or hearing "vandalisms". The situations where I would find it the best way to describe something are very rare, or even nonexistent. As Chris H's answer points out, headlines often use unnatural wording, partly to save space: "100 vandalisms" is shorter than the more natural-sounding "100 acts of vandalism".

  • It's also worth stating that the entry for vandalism has not been updated for over 100 years, and usage may well have changed since 1916. Even then, they hadn't quoted a more recent example than 1882. – Andrew Leach May 16 '18 at 22:09
  • @AndrewLeach: Well, the OED never removes definitions, and I assume they'd only mark it as obsolete if it fell out of use entirely. The Google Ngram Viewer seems to indicate that "vandalisms", while infrequent, is still used. – sumelic May 17 '18 at 2:19

Oxford has it as a mass noun; Collins also says uncountable. Cambridge doesn't say either way but gives no plural examples (their mobile view seems somewhat lacking).

Your counter examples are mainly some headlines and Wiktionary. The latter, for all its usefulness, is easily edited (I've done it myself) and editors may be a little too willing to document non-standard uses. Headlinese is definitely prove to non-standard use.

As a fellow Wikipedia editor (rarely now, but with a fair few anti-vandalism edits in the past) I wouldn't use the plural in that case. The mass noun is often appropriate (an edit summary might be "revert last 42 edits, all vandalism"), or you can refer to "acts of vandalism" or even "defacements".

I've tracked down the Wiktionary edit that changed the description from "uncountable" to giving a plural form. It was by a very experienced editor who didn't cite a source.

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