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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?

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  • Because there's more than one possible "good value".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 12 '19 at 12:24
  • 1
    Would you consider 'She smiled at us with an unusual friendliness' bad English? 'Friendliness' is here (as almost always, if not always) non-count: you can't speak of 'two / 17 / half a dozen / several unusual friendlinesses'. The literary pairing of the indefinite article with selected non-count usages is well established. // Why does everybody say [he set to work] 'with enthusiasm', [he set to work] 'with zeal', [he set to work] 'with a will', and [he set to work] 'with' either 'passion' or 'a passion' (ignoring extended strings such as 'he set to work with a zeal and / worthy of')? May 9 '20 at 10:47
  • 1
    As a speaker of US English, I would not say "a better value", but that said, I would not use the word "value" at all. I would use the word "deal", with the indefinite article. Somehow the construction "make x a better value" does not make sense to me. I think what makes this sound peculiar is the notion of making a thing be a value. Things are not a value; they have value. Do people often speak sloppily? Of course they do. May 9 '20 at 11:12
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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.

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  • "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 '19 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 '19 at 17:59
  • The use of 'a' before a noun is not seen as a sufficient marker for a count usage by say CGEL. So 'He took a pride in his appearance' is not seen as a count usage (*'He/They took 2/17/several/half a dozen prides in ...'). Have you examples of 'two better values'; 'several values' (in the sense we are using here)? Feb 2 '20 at 16:39
  • @EdwinAshworth "The offers at X and Y are both better values than the offer at Z." "We have better values on Sundays than the rest of the week." I should add that we have a chain store called "Value Village" where this makes sense. Feb 2 '20 at 19:42
  • Thanks. Lexico's more possibly count example seems to be more US-based than UK-based ($17.95’), and I'd expect 'equipment is included up to a total value of £500 for the Assynt trip, and £300 for the Skye trip' say in the UK. But doubtless countification of this sense is happening (and of course 'the values of x and y are ...' is standard). Feb 2 '20 at 20:16
1

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.

1

The two earliest matches for "a good value" in an Elephind search of U.S. and Australian newspaper databases come from the same year: 1852. One instance is from a U.S. newspaper and the other from an Australian newspaper. From "Information for the People," in the [Pottsville, Pennsylvania] Miners' Journal and Pottsville General Advisor (September 11, 1852):

Why was Chester formerly celebrated for its races? Because the earliest commencement of regular horse race is traced to a Shrove Tuesday custom at Chester, when the company of saddlers presented to the drapers a wooden ball garlanded with flowers and placed upon the point of a lance : but in 1540, the ball was changed into a bell of silver, valued at 3*s*. 6*d*. or more, to be given to him who should run the best and farthest on horseback. At length, an innkeeper and mayor of Chester first caused horses to be entered for the race, in 1624, the horses to run five times round the roody, and "he who won the last course or trayne,' received the bell, of a good value, of eight or ten pounds or thereabout; which moneys were collected of the citizens, to a sum for that purpose."

The source of the quoted language containing the phrase "a good value" is not identified in the story, but circumstantially at least it appears to be from England.

From an advertisement for the sale of two small farms at Cobbitty, in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Empire (November 27, 1852):

It is needless to say that farms in this desirable locality are well deserving the attention of small farmers and capitalists, their position is such as always to command a good value, but now they have acquired from obvious causes, a much higher one, and the investment in their purchase must be a good one.

This advertisement continued to appear in various Sydney newspapers over the course of the next three weeks.

The next-oldest instances of the expression likewise appear in a mix of Australian and U.S. newspapers, with Australian newspapers predominating. From H. Cowie, "Commercial Markets, &c.: Mercantile Report," in the [Adelaide] South Australian Register (May 18, 1855):

For sugars there is still a good enquiry at the enhanced prices, and the market is still bare of anything like an assortment of the various descriptions. Well-assorted oilmen's stores command a good value, and in teas our stock is not heavy. Porter and ale in wood fetch fall prices. Candles continue scarce.

This report, too, appears in multiple Australian newspapers over the next six weeks.

From "Bayard Taylor in Northern Europe: A Trip to the Voring-Foss," in the New York Daily Tribune (November 11, 1857):

The house was dirty, and the aspect of the family bed, which occupied one side of the room, merely divided by boards into separate compartments for the parents, children and servants, was sufficient to banish sleep. Notwithstanding the poverty of the place, the old woman set a good value upon her choice provender. The horses were soon forthcoming, and the man, whose apparent kindness increased every moment, said to me: "Have I not done well? Is it not well that I have brought your horses so soon?"

From "Carngham," in the [Ballarat, Victoria] Star (September 19, 1861):

The Old Victoria Company, whose claim has been declared over and over again to be quite done, and the shares in which have changed hands repeatedly, though always keeping a good value, shared £11 at the last weekly divide; and the Nil Desperandum Company stands high in the market, promising work for a long and indefinite time.

And from an untitled item the Newcastle [New South Wales] and Hunter River District News (October 17, 1863):

The charge for admission is fixed at so low a rate, that none need hesitate to attend them on that account; and we feel sure that all who hear them will afterwards be ready to confess that they got a good value for their money. The, chair on each evening will be occupied by one of our principal citizens.

It thus appears that "a good value" has been around for more than 150 years and that—to judge from its occurrences in contemporaneous newspapers—it was at least as likely to be encountered in Australian periodicals as in U.S. ones during the 1850s and early 1860s.

0

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.

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  • 1
    Interesting perspective. Though I don't quite follow the part about VAT—could you kindly elaborate on this?
    – Jeid
    Apr 12 '19 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 '19 at 16:32
-3

In British English, you cannot have a value in that context, but you can have a deal in that context.

Speakers of US English do not appear to understand the difference.

1
  • A deal is a discrete thing. A deal in not an attribute of the parties or properties involved in the deal. It is merely associated with them. Similarly, a value is the product of the act of valuation. It also is a standalone entity. It is not an attribute of the thing it is associated with. Importantly, values are fungible to a high degree. A property value and an entertainment value can be compared fairly. There are a few values that aren't extrinsic, like scenic value, but these are the oddball usage cases in the US. Scenic value isn't regarded as the product of someone valuing a view.
    – Phil Sweet
    May 9 '20 at 14:21

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