Page http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv259.shtml say that these words are uncountable nouns, but page https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/nouns-singular-and-plural say that are only singular-nouns. Who to believe?

Sorry, I had to edit again because I had to write "uncountables" and not "countables". The first link doesn't work, but you can paste the link in Google and you can see the page.

  • Thanks for your answer. The first link doesn't work, but you can see if you search the link using Google. My dude is that if a noun is considered plural, is a error say that it's uncountable. Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 4:20
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    If you examine the Cambridge article, it includes: << Nouns used only in the singular: Some nouns are used only in the singular, even though they end in -s. These include: the names of academic subjects such as classics, economics, mathematics/maths, ...; the diseases measles and mumps; and the word news: 'Maths was never my best subject at school....' / 'Aerobics is great fun – you should try it!' Nouns used only in the plural Some nouns only have a plural form. They cannot be used with numbers. T ... >> You're conflating two concepts. The first ... Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 16:45
  • ... set take singular verb-forms. The second take plural verb-forms. But neither set can be used with numerals ( measles is nasty / *4 measles //// these trousers are uncomfortable / *7 trousers). So both sets are (usually) non-count. // Measles, mumps, ... physics ... are (a) non-count nouns, (b) plural in form (ie they end in s), (c) taking a singular verb-form. Contrast say 'police', usually non-count, singular in form, taking a plural verb-form. And 'furniture', usually non-count (but the chairs can be counted!), singular in form, taking a singular verb-form. Commented Nov 2, 2019 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


I believe they're singular nouns. Each of them is the name of a disease, which is one thing.

These diseases have names that are plural in form, but I believe this is a legacy to their origin. "measles" is believed to come from the Dutch "masel", which meant "pustule". So someone with this disease has many of the pustules on their body, and they would have described his affliction by referring to them in the plural: they had many measles.

But over time we've lost most of the singular forms -- we no longer refer to each blister as a "measle". Instead, the plural form has come to mean the affliction itself. They're used the same way that disease names that aren't in a plural form are, such as "leprosy" and "ALS".

The one variety of diseases I can think of where we still have the singular form are the -pox diseases: smallpox, chicken pox. We still use the words "pock" and "pockmark" to refer to the scar left from a blister. But I don't think anyone actually refers to a single blister as a "chicken pock".

Disease names are also normally uncountable, as they describe general concepts. You can't have two measles, although you can have multiple measles outbreaks, patients, epidemics, etc.

  • I have heard people describe an individual spot as a "measle" and use "measles" to refer to the spots collectively, but I think that's a nonstandard usage. I agree that "measles" is normally used to mean the disease itself rather than the visible symptoms.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 3:15
  • @nnnnnn These days it might be a back-formation from the disease. Also, since "shingle" is a real word, although with an unrelated meaning, when I hear that someone has shingles I intuitively expect to find something shingle-like on their body.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 3:17
  • They are indeed singular nouns. For what it's worth, as for being plural in form, "diabetes" and "rabies" are not even that, and their final "s" makes no difference; they are no more plural in form than "gas" or "lens".
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 9:48
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    @Barmar "Rabies" is borrowed directly from a Latin fifth-declension singular noun, just like "series" and "species".
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 16:35
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    @JasonBassfordSupportsMonica I've added a paragraph at the end about that.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 18:49

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