Take this example from the Airbnb website: "What would have made this listing a better value?"

This souds absolutely horrible and incorrect to my Australian ears (I would omit the "a"). I've also noticed this quite frequently watching Youtube videos with presenters from USA and Canada.

In the only related question I found, respondees (presumably from USA given the nature of the question) use the indefinite article in their responses without so much as aknowledging that it differs from the phrase given by the OP.

Does the indefinite article not suggest that "value" is a coutable noun, thus making its usage bad English?

  • Because there's more than one possible "good value". – Hot Licks Apr 12 at 12:24

I'm going to answer this as a Canadian.

To me, value is being used as a countable noun in that sentence—which is exactly why the indefinite article makes sense.

Here's an example. Say I'm shopping and I find three things for sale, each containing multiple items. One costs $1 for two, another costs $2 for three, and the third costs $3 for four. Everything else being equal, the best value of the three is the first one, where each item is only fifty cents. Similarly, the second one, at 67 cents per item is a better value than the third at 75 cents per item.

That is the sense of value that I would use in this particular context. In other words, I consider it to be synonymous with deal.

To translate the original sentence:

What would have made this listing a better deal?

In fact, if I look at the Merriam-Webster definition of value, I see this:

3 : relative worth, utility, or importance
// a good value at the price
// the value of base stealing in baseball
// had nothing of value to say

Two of those examples make use of an article, and the first one uses the indefinite article.

Oxford Dictionaries also provides a definition of value that can have it take a countable form:

[mass noun] The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
‘your support is of great value’

1.1 The material or monetary worth of something.
‘prints seldom rise in value’

[count noun] ‘equipment is included up to a total value of £500’

1.2 The worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it.
‘at £12.50 the book is good value’

[count noun] ‘the wine represents a good value for $17.95’

So, treating it as a countable noun is common in UK English too.

The source specific to Australian English, the Macquarie Dictionary, is behind a paywall. However, I signed up for a 30-day trial and looked up the word value.

Unfortunately, it doesn't explicitly indicate if the word is countable or not. In looking at all of its senses and example sentences, however, the indefinite article is never used. This would strongly suggest that, as stated in the question, value is not used as a countable noun in Australia specifically.

Here is the entry for the noun value in Macquarie in its entirety:

noun 1. that property of a thing because of which it is esteemed, desirable, or useful, or the degree of this property possessed; worth, merit, or importance: the value of education.

2. material or monetary worth, as in traffic or sale: even the waste has value.

3. (plural) Mining payable quantities of mineral.

4. the worth of a thing as measured by the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged, or as estimated in terms of a medium of exchange.

5. equivalent worth or equivalent return: for value received.

6. estimated or assigned worth; valuation.

7. force, import, or significance: the value of a word or phrase.

8. Mathematics
a. the magnitude of a quantity or measurement.
b. (of a function) the number obtained when particular numbers are substituted for the variables.

9. (plural) Sociology the things of social life (ideals, customs, institutions, etc.) towards which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, education, etc., or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy.

10. Ethics any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself.

11. Painting the property of a colour by which it is distinguished as light or dark.

12. Music the relative length or duration of a note.

13. Phonetics
a. quality.
b. the phonetic equivalent of a letter: one value of the letter 'a' is the vowel sound in 'hat', 'sang', etc.

  • "So, treating it as a countable noun is common in UK English too." - I'm not comfortable with that conclusion. You can conclude that it can be done in British English, but that doesn't mean it's common. To me as a native speaker of BrE from the south east "a good value" is extremely jarring. (Unless the "a" refers to a noun such as in some of the "more examples", e.g. "a good value souvenir") – AndyT Apr 12 at 14:13
  • Wow thanks for the response. Treating value as synonomous with deal offers a satisfactory explanation (although still definitely jarring for me). Interesting to know that it could be an Australian phenomenon to never use the indefinite article (regardless of how rare it is in UK English). – Jeid Apr 12 at 17:59

Not really. Value is a countable noun in America unless you involve it with prepositions. We would understand an Aussie doesn't include them, but it sounds stilted to us; like cave talk.

I think Europeans understand this too because of VAT (Value Added Tax) in the EU.

You do have a point insofar as the word better does suggest quality, and not quantity though.

  • 1
    Interesting perspective. Though I don't quite follow the part about VAT—could you kindly elaborate on this? – Jeid Apr 12 at 18:08
  • That which can be added, at least in any way that we can quantify for the purposes of taxation, must be countable... no? – sas08 Apr 25 at 16:32

Looking at the quoted sentence from Airbnb, I can't see a situation where North Americans (or at least, Americans) would drop the article altogether. To me, that makes the sentence seem awkward.

And changing to the definite article would make it worse.

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