I was wondering whether 'communication' in the phrase (collocation) 'one-way communication' is a countable or uncountable usage. I've seen both usages (e.g. The Guardian leaning more towards uncountable while The New York Times is more towards countable), but I'm not sure which practice one should follow.

To be on the safe side, I always add the word 'process' at the end. For example:

Customer engagement is not a one-way communication process

But I sometimes feel the wording can be a bit redundant. So any thoughts?

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    When used as a count noun communication is going to be one-way anyhow, IMO. You can say we received a communication from X and it sounds as though you are in the military or civil service, but otherwise OK - obviously that is just an incoming communication, because of received. You can say various communications passed back and forth, but again each one is one way. If you try to use it to refer to a two-way process e.g. we had a communication with each other it comes out weird. IMO we would say we communicated or we were in communication, if we were going to use the word at all.
    – user339660
    Commented Jun 8, 2019 at 6:04
  • How can it be a count noun when it consists of a head noun, "communication", and the compound adjective "one-way" serving as modifier? "One-way communication" is not a single word that may be analysed as either count or non-count, but a syntactic construction.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 8, 2019 at 6:21
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    Remove both a and process: Customer engagement is not one-way communication. Commented Jun 8, 2019 at 13:07
  • There are ten times as many Google hits for "one-way communication" as there are for "one-way communications". But there are still 125 000 hits for the 'plural form'. I'd say this licenses it, but that isn't the same as saying that the true count usage is standard (??'We had three/several one-way communications last week.') // Jasson's non-count usage (and I'd say adding an 'a' wouldn't make it wrong – or a count usage) is preferable here. Commented Jun 8, 2019 at 14:10
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    I’m voting to close this question because the poster's question is based on the false assumption that "one-way" is a noun, when it is an adjective.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 9:30

1 Answer 1


According to iWeb Corpus https://www.english-corpora.org/iweb/, when one-way communication is followed by a noun like channel or tool, the article a precedes it. However, if one-way communication is not followed by a noun, in most cases, the indefinite article is not used. Examples: iConsult is a medium facilitating the exchange of relevant information related to a medical condition, not a diagnostic device that provides data via a one-way communication channel, which can not be questioned or consulted. CampGrams are- a one-way communication tool that allows parents- to easily send messages to their- camper while they are away at camp. The autocratic leader adopts one-way communication.

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    But can the phrase be used as a standalone countable compound noun? For example, an article from the New York Times wrote this: "Advertising used to be a one-way communication from advertiser to consumer, but now people want to have a dialogue. And Facebook is becoming the default way to do that, not only in the States but really for the whole world".
    – rutuehurhu
    Commented Jun 8, 2019 at 7:00
  • @rutuehurhu 1 it is not a "compound noun". 2 In a one-way communication "communication" remains uncountable. "One-way" is an adjective = unidirectional. In broad terms, the "countability" of a noun depends upon context.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 9:53
  • @Greybeard 'using a directional antenna to receive one-way communications' (from a Cornell website; Google search) is a noun-premodified count usage, totally unremarkable. Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 11:02

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