I was watching A Conversation with Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates today, and when Barack Obama begins to talk, he says:

Most big change, most human progress, is driven by...

I am not a native English speaker, but I have a feeling that it should be most big changes instead of most big change.

Am I missing something here?

2 Answers 2


This is to do with countable and uncountable nouns. This link will explain in more detail. In brief, countable things can be counted. Uncountable nouns are also called "mass nouns". Some nouns are countable ("I have three cats and one dog, I wish I had fewer cats"). Some nouns are uncountable ("I wiped some dust off the table" or "We made some progress"). Some nouns can be both ("I bought some coffee.", "Could you get me a coffee?").

The word "change" can be countable ("I made about a dozen changes to the document") or uncountable ("There was little change between drafts of the document"). In your original quote, it is uncountable, and reflects "progress" which is also uncountable.

  • The question implies that "changes" is commonly understood as an uncountable pluraletantum. Fitting a grammatical description a posteriori does not answer the question at all. Phrases like "we want change" sound almost ungrammatical to me. One poblem I see is that many small changes making one big change, or just big change would be counterintuitive, going from plural to singular.
    – vectory
    Mar 4, 2019 at 1:42
  • @vectory, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world"! Feel free to add your own answer. You could say similar things about the word "power", so maybe this is a new question in its own right.
    – Pam
    Mar 4, 2019 at 8:10

Wiktionary has a quotation, listed under countable,

Of all the transitions brought about on the Earth’s surface by temperature change, ...

With politics, the closest idiom would be political change, a change of politics. I don't know what big change is, in comparison. a big change would be countable, big change isn't.

The above example could read instead: "by the Earth surface temperature change". This is a bit too unwieldy, hence it may be broken up: "on the Earth's surface by its temperature change". Leave out its and the meaning remains the same, but the meaning would change if a plural -es is added, because it might imply up and down swings, if a single change is single directional..

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