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From CNN Money - Italy crisis rocks markets. Here's why investors are worried, I read the following near the bottom of the article:

A majority of Italy's government debt is owned by Italians, but the European Central Bank also owns a big chunk, along with banks and investors in France, Luxembourg, Germany and Spain.

It seemed wrong to me, it just doesn't read nicely:

A majority?

Surely, by definition, there is only one majority, so that should read

The majority?

However, this differs from the statement,

Company X holds a majority share of company Y

where, in this case the use of "a" would seem more natural to me, although I must admit I am not totally sure why that is, although I guess it is because in the former example majority is a noun and in the latter it is an adjective.


I have had a look at some other majority related questions, and

Article usage with "majority" seems to give a confused variety of answers/comments, particularly with this comment appearing to suggest that the CNN article is in fact correct:

(b1) A majority of Elbonians go dextroboping at weekends (emphasising that this is one particular subset)

From Use of majority to refer to quantity, it would seem that majority of debt is incorrect anyway - because debt is (somewhat ironically) an uncountable noun:

This word should probably be used only for countable items rather than non-countable collective nouns

So, it appears that the CNN article would have been better written as:

Most of Italy's government debt is owned by Italians, but the European Central Bank also owns a big chunk, along with banks and investors in France, Luxembourg, Germany and Spain.

Is that correct?

  • 1
    More than half would be better than most, because most conveys the impression that the quantity is much more than half. – Peter Shor May 30 '18 at 11:42
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    @PeterShor Not necessarily . . . english.stackexchange.com/questions/55920/… – Jason Bassford May 30 '18 at 17:19
  • Logically, I agree with the use of the definite article. However, I've heard the indefinite article used so often that it doesn't "sound" wrong. Perhaps it's because we are used to saying a minority and so, by parallelism, assume (against actual logic) that we should also be able to say a majority. – Jason Bassford May 30 '18 at 17:23
  • (Also, I would argue against debt being uncountable: I have $500 in debt. $400, the majority of it, came from a night I can't remember.) – Jason Bassford May 30 '18 at 17:27
  • ... @commenters Terminology needs sorting out here. The usage of the noun 'debt' is non-count in "He was heavily in debt" but count in "He has several / 3 debts he needs to pay off". 'Count' and 'non-count' refer solely to whether a noun usage accepts a numeral (or 'several' say) (not just 'a'). Monetary debts are etically countable / computable (at least in theory). Countness of a noun usage and countability of the referent do not always match precisely. 'Cattle' is always non-count but you can count the animals. – Edwin Ashworth May 30 '18 at 20:07

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