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So I've looked up the word "software" around, and I've learned that -ware words are uncountable, and there's even a claim at the Wiktionary entry for this word that "a software" or "softwares" are a non-native thing. Which makes sense, other languages have countable words that would translate better to "program" or "app," but also to "software" as a broader concept, so when translating back into English, errors are bound to arise. But today I found that this dude named Grant who lives in Chicago and who sounds very, very much like native North American speaker of English (I haven't found anything more about him), and he keeps saying "a software" and "softwares." Are those a thing among native speakers of major English varieties (AmE, BrE, AuE)? I'm disregarding other varieties because they're not commonly taught or featured and a lot of them have quirks, probably including these ones.

Edit: It's not a duplicate, period. At least read the intent of the question, folks. Don't just knee-jerk.

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'Software' is non-countable (like 'milk'). As a native American English-speaker who grew up with software (and a vested interest in it) and is nearing age 40, it seems like people who are quite computer literate and have been since before the age of smartphones will never say 'a software' or 'softwares' unless they're joking, or mis-educated, but native speakers (including business managers/owners who aren't personally into computers) do say this sometimes (much to the dismay or amusement of those who know better, such as the programmers who work for them). People who aren't into software much or who don't really know what it is have been known to erroneously say 'a software'. The younger generation, and those who started using computers at the same time, are probably more prone to misusing the terminology if they use it, since it's less common these days (they usually say 'app' instead).

'Softwares' seems to be less common than 'a software' by far, for native speakers. But, regardless of who says them, 'a software' and 'softwares' are incorrect usage—kind of like how 'a women' is incorrect and 'women' or 'a woman' are correct (I have no idea why people keep writing that, unless it's autocorrect doing it).

Instead of saying 'a software' you should say 'some software', 'a program', 'a computer program', 'an application', 'a software application', or more modernly, 'an app' (although if you're talking to an old-time computer techie, you should probably only use 'app' if you're talking about mobile apps, since they didn't grow up with that and the term became popular in the smartphone community, which wasn't always everyone).

Instead of 'softwares' you should say 'software', 'programs', 'computer programs', 'applications', 'software applications', 'apps' or such.

It should be noted that software is a much more general term than 'program' and all those other words I listed. Software can refer to programming libraries/modules, media files, and other stuff (not just runnable programs—although as you'll note in the comments, not all definitions of software are so broad as to encompass things besides programs). Anything you program as a computer programmer is software. The same is not true of the other terms. Even a chunk of code that does nothing by itself is software. Documentation for programs is considered software. Even files are software (for instance, images, text files, documents). Images and word processor documents may be software, but they're not apps, programs, etc. Everything that is stored on a hard drive is, in my opinion, software (although some, if not many, people might contend that point, and think that software has to give more direct instructions, or be part of something that does in order to be considered software). Even websites are software (but please don't call them that; just call them websites). Computer programs are things you can run and use directly (like OpenOffice, Firefox, Audacity, SynthFont, VanBasco's Karaoke Player, etc.) Computer programs are also used to open files (if they support them; like, VanBasco's Karaoke Player can open and play .midi files—but both the midis and the player are software, while the midis are not programs).

  • 1
    "Everything that is stored on a hard drive is software." Would you call images on an LCD "hardware" then? I agree with the rest of your answer: notice that you suggest there that "software" is something executable. "Software" is a counterpart of "hardware" (which is clear from the etymology of these words): both "software" and "hardware" decide what to do (with data), the former being more alterable than the latter, particularly because software can be generated by other software. So all software is data, but not all data is software. – Kirill Bulygin Jul 22 '18 at 13:37
  • I wasn't suggesting that all software is executable. I was suggesting that all programs are executable, and that all data stored as ones and zeros on memory devices (although I only mentioned hard drives specifically), whether or not it's executable, is software. I would call the images on an LCD screen 'light', rather than software or hardware, unless you're talking about the images in the firmware of a smart TV or such (firmware, operating systems and such count as software, but the particular display of it is just light). – Shule Jul 24 '18 at 0:40
  • But yeah, some programs do require other programs to run; so, they're not independently executable. For instance Python scripts need the Python interpreter to run. Java bytecode needs the Java runtime environment, but together with their dependencies, I'd call them programs. All programs are software, but not all software constitutes a/some programs. – Shule Jul 24 '18 at 0:42
  • As an example of an authoritative source, britannica.com/technology/software defines "software" as "instructions that tell a computer what to do." Can images, or video, or documents count as instructions? If yes, then everything we humans see in the world are instructions as well, since everything tells us in some way what to do next. But we don't call everything instructions, do we? Similarly, not all data is software. – Kirill Bulygin Jul 24 '18 at 7:57
  • Let's look at another source: at merriam-webster.com/dictionary/software, the definition "a : programs for a computer" is the primary one, then "b dated : the entire set of programs, procedures, and related documentation associated with a mechanical or electronic system and especially a computer system" (which seems to be like your definition, but note the label "dated" and that not all data is included), and then "c : materials for use with audiovisual equipment" (which is, in any case, not quite related to computer software: computers are not necessarily audiovisual equipment). – Kirill Bulygin Jul 24 '18 at 8:20
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As a native American English speaker with lots of family who are native British English speakers: No, neither of these uses are common in AmE or BrE (I can't be certain of Australian English, but I highly doubt these are commonly used there either), however there are specific instances where they are ... not necessarily incorrect. That doesn't however mean that it's a good idea to use them.

For the first portion of your question, regarding "a software", this is likely never correct (I suppose there may be an exception or two, but I doubt it), however "a 3D software" (as is said in the linked YouTube video) is acceptable. Why? Because you're not saying 'a software', but rather 'an individual piece of software, among a type software'. In most cases however, there are better ways to phrase this. Generally these include "some software", rearranging the sentence, and/or switching to a countable noun (program or application).

For the second part, I'm going to step away from the word "software" for a moment to another 'uncountable' word that is easier to explain with: "people"

"People" is any number of people other than one, because it generally acts as the plural form of "person", however it can also mean a group of people: "a people".

There are many people on the earth, and you can refer to them all as "people", e.g. "Many people live on the earth" however the Egyptians can be considered 'a people', and the Japanese are also 'a people', and there are many more 'peoples', if you refer to multiple of these groups of people, the correct term is 'peoples', e.g. "There are many peoples living on the earth." This sentence is not saying that many individual people live on the earth, but rather that there are many groups of people living on earth, each of which can be considered as 'a people'.

The use of "softwares" that you see in the linked YouTube video is not identical, but similar in that it is not actually referring to what you may think at first. It doesn't mean one piece of software (e.g. 3D Studio Max, FreeCAD, K-3D, etc.), or software in general (e.g. "I develop software"), rather it refers to multiple individual examples of a group of pieces of software: 3D software, not as a category, but as the individuals within that category. FreeCAD is "a 3D software", and K-3D is "a 3D software", referring not to the group itself, not to any specific individuals within the group, but rather generic, but distinct individuals within the group, you can say "3D softwares" i.e. "There are multiple 3D softwares available for free." however, again, despite this being "not incorrect", it's usually a bit awkward, and should generally be avoided.

I apologize for the awkward descriptions of how these may be used. In my defense, while they are "not incorrect", they are awkward uses, and usually are not the right thing to say.

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    As an Australian I can attest to it being unnatural. It's a piece of software or a software <noun>. – Wes Toleman Jul 21 '18 at 2:19
  • If there are a lot of better options, why would anyone take that route if it's decidedly not the way to say it for a native speaker? -ware words don't seem to behave like say "meat" or "fruit," which are still labeled as countable in dictionaries when you talk "specific types;" they seem to remain uncountable in all contexts I've known. Are you sure what that guy does is acceptable? I don't think "people" is a good example when talking about countability, because it has been used either as (A) the plural of "person," or (B) a countable, but collective, noun. – Vun-Hugh Vaw Jul 21 '18 at 4:26
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    All uncountables in English can be "counted" when used as short hand for discrete units or types of same. Meats refers to (to my AmE ears) types of meat (ham, turkey, fish, and specifics like honey glazed ham vs black forest ham). Fruit comes in distinct pieces already, in addition to a variety of types. Waters refers to multiple bodies of water (lakes, rivers, oceans, glasses of water, etc). I think software, being more abstract and newer, is just more awkward in these situations. – jaxad0127 Jul 21 '18 at 4:53
  • @jaxad0127: The US fast-food chain Arby's has recently been advertising with the (ugly and annoying) slogan "We have the meats!" – dave_thompson_085 Jul 21 '18 at 12:02
  • "Fruit" is interesting. "Fruit" is used in a generic way, but also to indicate a single piece of fruit. One apple is either "fruit" or "one fruit", two apples can be "fruit" or "two fruits". – gnasher729 Jul 21 '18 at 12:50
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This kind of question is well suited for a corpus analysis.

In the British National Corpus there is no occurrence at all of softwares, and every occurrence of the collocation a software is part of a larger noun phrase ("a software house, "a software product", etc). Thus there is no evidence in this corpus to support use of countable software in British English - although note that its texts are from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when probably only the technorati would have been talking about software, and usage today may vary.


The Corpus of Contemporary American English does contain 15 hits for softwares, from 7 sources. It's interesting to note that all of them are from academic papers, mainly in biological science.

A software gets over a thousand hits, and most of them are again part of a noun phrase, but there are some which aren't: e.g. from Gizmodo magazine:

... of the day, what you're doing is you're coming up with a software based on a computerized way of saying these two images are probably of the same ...

From the Los Angeles Times:

... That is for the hardware. A software able to manage this real-time, on-demand transport system is also needed. Will ...

If we count (JAnimalPlantSci)

The data obtained from the study were analyzed using a software SPSS version 17.

(and I think we should) then 5 of the first 100 results are using a software as a countable noun.

Extrapolating to approximately 70 hits (15 plural and about 55 singular) in COCA we get a word which is low frequency but not negligible.


Although you don't ask for usage advice, for the benefit of others who may find this page through web searches: although it is used, be aware that some people consider it an incorrect usage, as evidenced by earlier answers and my own reaction on seeing the question. It is safer to use countable nouns such as computer program (and the American spelling of program is used in British English even by people who would write about a television programme).


TL;DR At least in contemporary American English there is evidence that a software/softwares is in use.

  • Is it possible that some of the American corpus hits are using "software" as part of a compound phrase, e.g. "a software package", "a software download", etc? Is there any way to distinguish those? – duskwuff Jul 22 '18 at 6:41
  • I think you're seeing people who don't know what software is use it incorrectly, plus some editorial story cropping for word-count. So the question "is it being used?" is not the same as "should it be used?", or "is it used by a specific technical community, as a jargon?". – WillC Jul 22 '18 at 8:43
  • @duskwuff, I read through the first 100 hits and checked manually: 95 were using it as part of a compound noun, and 5 weren't. Obviously I didn't make this clear enough. Can you suggest how I could make it clearer? – Peter Taylor Jul 22 '18 at 13:10
  • @WillC, I quite agree that "Is it being used?" is not the same question as "Should it be used?". I understand the question asked to be "Is it being used?", and that's the question I primarily attempted to answer. – Peter Taylor Jul 22 '18 at 13:15
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    Well maybe, but "Are those a thing among native speakers of major English varieties (AmE, BrE, AuE)?" is a about major English varieties. In the same way that "like, you know" is historically Valley Girl dialect for "please don't ask for references, I only think it might be true", but isn't accepted for use anywhere else or in any profession. – WillC Jul 23 '18 at 14:28
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To the OP:

I tried to answer the question. I didn't think it merited an entire thing.

I have no idea what you mean about my comments being spammy.

Native English speakers do not say softwares with an s. They say, if they need a plural, programs, applications, software applications or software programs. With an s.

Also, they do not say "a" software, as if it were a countable noun.

They will switch from using software (uncountable) to programs or applications if they need to refer to more than one piece of software in a formal context.

Finally, it is possible the person you "ran into" online uses softwares with an s to be cutsey. Being cutesy is an American expression that means: to be cute i.e. to get noticed.

It is also possible that the person uses the s because the person is non native

.

If you look at the "formal" documentation for software on the internet from software companies, you will not find software with an s or an a.

That is all I have to say. And I have no references other than my own experience. By the way, I have translated tons of strings and software bumph, especially in the area of banking, finance and architecture.

Have a nice day, afternoon or evening. (I don't know your time zone).

Software is an uncountable noun or it is an adjective, as in software program or product or software environment.

  • @RuiFRibeiro Please.....I won't bother with addressing that. I don't know how one can make such a broad statements. I have seen tons of instances of it over the years.... – Lambie Jul 22 '18 at 14:59
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I think the fifteen COCA instances of "softwares" that Peter Taylor notes in his answer are worth looking at more closely.

Notably, five of the matches for "softwares" are from the same (Dutch) online source—and four of those are from a single article (published in 2017) on 3D software. This is unmistakable evidence that the usage is intentional. Moreover, the English proficiency of the author (LAB Wilson) seems to be quite high, although the style is regrettably wooden:

Indeed, a significant and recognized challenge for the beginner is the task of gaining a working knowledge of many 3D softwares and, in the case of applying geometric morphometric methods, the theoretical framework underpinning the comparison of shapes. Some of the additional benefits, such as interface with computational techniques to test form-function hypotheses, also come with the requirement for considerable specialist knowledge, e.g. engineering principles. 3D softwares vary significantly in cost, functionality, and ease-of-use, resulting in the need for a user to be familiar with several programs. A 'one for all' option is lacking, and most protocols involve the need to mix and match between softwares, demanding knowledge of file types and compatibility.

Clearly, for good or for ill, this author thinks that softwares is preferable to "software programs."

The author of the other article on the Dutch site (also published in 2017) shows a somewhat weaker grasp of English forms:

The development of multimedia services increases the appearing frequency of doctored images related to the political, advertising and personal attacks. The ease in availability of the photo editing softwares and high quality modern cameras has led to the manipulation of the image information to a great extent. Therefore, maintaining the authenticity of digital images is one of the primary concerns.

Four other COCA matches are from a single article (published in 2013) on bioinformatics analysis by a team of Chinese researchers. Again, there can be no doubt that the usage is intentional, but there is room to doubt the English fluency of the authors or their (human or automated) translator:

We used the PicTar (Krek et al. 2005) and Target Scan (Lewis et al. 2003) softwares to identify potential miR-184 target genes. To improve the accuracy of the analysis, we chose all the genes in predicted results of two softwares to use for GO term enrichment (http:// www.geneontology.org). If the P value less than 0.01 and at least 10 associated genes are in the GO term, it is considered these genes are enriched in the GO term.

Two other matches are from a single article published in 2016 in a periodical called Computers in Biology and Medicine. This author (Imon Banerjee) exhibits a generally strong (but not flawless) command of English:

Performing a comprehensive semantic annotation for all medical datasets is beyond the human capacity due to its massive volume. However, the efficient combination of man and machine can improve the speed and efficiency of annotation, and can offer ultimate understanding and utilization of anatomical data. In other words, semantic annotation softwares which extract the implicit content of the input data, parse all available symbolic information about patient history, and take into account the formalized medical knowledge, are becoming more and more relevant in this context.

The preceding sources—four articles across three periodicals/sites—account for eleven of the fifteen instances of "softwares" in the COCA search results. Of the remaining four COCA listings, one (from an NPR Science call-in show in 1998) seems very likely to be a typo or speech error, since it appears in the context of the phrase "the financial accounting package softwares that's":

And again that's just the operating system—the hardware and the operating system, so that has nothing to do with the Quicken software or whatever, the financial accounting package softwares that's running on top of it.

A second match from this final group of four solitary matches—this one published in 1995—may involve a punctuation (apostrophe placement) error:

[B]e aware that students tend to fit the hypotheses to their ability to manipulate the software, rather than to formulate hypotheses which necessitate their creative uses of the softwares' capabilities; ...

Transposing an apostrophe and an s is a common typographical error.

The remaining two instances, however, are more ambiguous. Here is one (published in in 1993) that could be read as a typo or as intentional:

Use of finite element analysis (FEA) and simulation softwares can determine the load needed to create 'first ply failure,' for complex-shaped designs.

The ambiguity arises because the author in this case might have been thinking, "I'm talking about FEA software and simulation software; those are two kinds of software or, more succinctly, two softwares."

And here is another (also published in 1993) that may not be a mere typo:

The most important issues in choosing fax softwares are ease of installation and adaptability to your modem. Sometimes it takes a few phone calls to tech support to get help with configuring the software to work with your specific fax modem.

Here, the author may have been so troubled by the wording "The most important issues in choosing fax software are ..." that he opted for softwares because it sounded better. Such a choice ignores the fact that are is there because the controlling noun in the sentence is issues, but I have seen many authors make the same false step in situations not involving software/softwares. It is possible, of course, that the author means to talk about choosing multiple fax software programs and considers softwares a legitimate word choice—but he seems pretty blithe about switching to "the software" (not "the softwares") in the next sentences. All in all, I think this instance is more likely than not to be a typo/braino error—but there is some possibility that the author believes in it.


Conclusions

Ultimately, the fifteen COCA matches for "softwares" break down as follows:

  • Eleven instances point to three definite sources of intentional use of "softwares" spread across four articles.

  • Two instances seem highly likely to involve accidental typographical errors.

  • One instance is (in my judgment) more likely than not to be a one-off error.

  • One instance is almost perfectly ambiguous, but may be reflect the author's view that "softwares" is a proper form.

That leaves us with four venues and five articles in which "softwares" probably appears intentionally—and notably, three of those articles come from authors who show a high level of English fluency.

Nevertheless, twelve or thirteen intentional matches in four or five articles is not as impressive as fifteen intentional matches in fifteen articles would have been. In fact, those low numbers are consistent with the view or hypothesis that use of "softwares" as a plural form is extremely rare among writers who are fluent in English. It is also noteworthy that the publication dates of the four articles in which the intentionality of the usage is clearest are relatively recent: 2013, 2016, 2017, and 2017. These may be signs of life in a post-copy-editor world.

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