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According to Answers.com:

The word mistake is an abstract noun, a word for an error in action or judgement.

Is this correct?

Then, why does it act like concrete nouns such as 'car' when it comes to countability?

Both 'mistake' and 'car' are countable, unless they follow "by".

a. I made three mistakes today. vs. I went there by mistake.

b. I saw three cars today. vs. I went there by car.

Does this prove that 'mistake' is also a concrete noun? Or is 'mistake' still an abstract noun, despite this similarity in countability?

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    – tchrist
    Sep 5, 2019 at 1:36

3 Answers 3

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Being able to count (or not count) a concrete or abstract noun is not a criterion that determines its type.


Some concrete nouns are countable:

✔ Look at that car.
✔ Look at those cars.

Some concrete nouns are not countable:

✔ Help me with my luggage.
✘ Help me with my luggages.


Some abstract nouns are countable:

✔ I made a mistake.
✔ I made a couple of mistakes.

Some abstract nouns are not countable:

✔ How much progress have you made?
✘ How many progresses have you made?

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    @listeneva - Isn't the semantic criteria just the definition of the noun(s) in question? Are there nouns whose definitions don't make it clear whether they're abstract or not?
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 30, 2019 at 5:14
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    'Progresses'. My new favourite non-word. Aug 30, 2019 at 12:50
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    It's only a non-noun. Makes a fine verb. Aug 30, 2019 at 12:55
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    @listeneva Abstract v concrete is purely a semantic definition. As far as I know there is no grammatical difference between concrete and abstract nouns. (I'm prepared to be corrected on that). Aug 30, 2019 at 14:12
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    @EdwinAshworth It's extremely unhelpful to label one thing 'extremely unhelpful' without showing what is helpful.
    – listeneva
    Aug 31, 2019 at 2:32
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Concrete nouns represent actual physical objects - table, paint, star, insect etc.

An abstract noun represent something that cannot be physically perceived - idea, ambition, prohibition, concept.

So yes, mistake is an abstract noun. As far as I know abstract nouns are treated exactly the same as concrete ones.

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    Thanks. But when you say 'I made three mistakes today', I think you can "perceive" those mistakes. Just because 'mistake' doesn't have a physical shape doesn't mean you cannot perceive it. No?
    – listeneva
    Aug 30, 2019 at 3:31
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    So is vacuum a concrete noun?
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 30, 2019 at 4:08
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    There is a grey area, and vacuum is in it. (Probably) Aug 30, 2019 at 12:57
  • @listeneva: I suggest DJClayworth should re-write "cannot be actually perceived" to "cannot be physically perceived". Which clears up the distinction. Aug 30, 2019 at 14:09
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    @DJClayworth: whatever a vacuum is, it is clearly not a grey area! ;-) Aug 30, 2019 at 14:13
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Actually, a "mistake" can be either abstract or concrete.

"He must have made a mistake doing that math in his head because his answer's wrong."

That's clearly abstract. The mistake is complete intangible and exists merely as an idea.

"Those four cupcakes are mistakes. You can eat the mistakes if you like, but the ones that aren't mistakes are for company."

That's clearly not abstract because you can literally pick up and eat the mistakes.

As for "mistake" being a countable noun, which it is, that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it's abstract or concrete. Say a bunch of quarters are on a table. I can say, "The coins are on the table." I can say, "The money is on the table." In those sentences, "coin" is a count noun and concrete and "money" is a non-count noun and concrete. They're both concrete nouns as they both indicate the exact same tangible objects lying on the table, so being concrete doesn't preclude a noun from being non-count and being a count noun does't mean a noun is necessarily concrete, as the very first example sentence above demonstrates.

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    I understand your point about the cupcakes, but it feels kind of borderline. Mistake or not they are still physical cupcakes, and labelling them mistakes is more conceptual. (Either way, concrete cupcakes are a mistake.)
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 30, 2019 at 7:00
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    You seem to use 'tangibility' as the only criterion to distinguish concrete and abstract nouns. But the question remains whether something is tangible or not. For example, is information tangible? If you can see some information, it's tangible and thus a concrete noun, and if you only have some information in your head, it's intangible and thus an abstract noun? How about 'atmosphere'? In The atmosphere of fear was tangible, is atmostphere or fear a concrete noun because it's tangible?
    – listeneva
    Aug 30, 2019 at 7:07
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    Fear is a real thing, but the phrase "the atmosphere of fear is tangible" is meant figuratively, as are similar expressions about fear or dread pressing down on someone.
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 30, 2019 at 7:57
  • The cupcakes are not the mistakes but they are here due to mistakes. Countability to the rescue. How many mistakes are there if there are four cupcakes? Could be any number from one up. Made too many. So one mistake. Forgot that uncle Salisbury is allergic to nuts so had to discard three and start over and then made one too many. So two mistakes. Made one a day early, then 2 with nuts, then 1 extra. So three mistakes. And so on.
    – puppetsock
    Aug 30, 2019 at 17:07
  • A mistake is a relational condition involving the intent a person has and the actions they take in regard to that intent. Choosing a wrong action is a mistake. The mistake is the choice. The action is mistaken but it is not the mistake it is by mistake. So are the consequences, and so are the concretes that might result.
    – puppetsock
    Aug 30, 2019 at 17:11

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