Importance is an uncountable noun, so one may shorten this sentence

We have external information and internal information. The importance of the external information and that of the internal information are different.

as follows,

We have both external and internal information. Their importance is different.

or as suggested (Is "they" valid for "information?"),

We have both external and internal information. They differ in importance.

Question 1: Can "both" (first sentence) be used for the singular object "information?"

Question 2: Can "their" (second sentence) be used for the singular object "information?"

Question 3: Can "importance" (second sentence) be different though it is singular?

  • 1
    I'm sorry; the second sentence in each example sounds distinctly odd. Could you substitute 'They differ in importance.' or 'One is more important than the other.'? Dec 16, 2019 at 17:16
  • 1
    The problem with "their importance" is that you do not have two owners of one importance. That setting would earn "their," but you could say the difference in their weight matters. Dec 16, 2019 at 18:29

1 Answer 1

  1. In your example, "both" can be used because you're not using "information" as a singular object, but rather "external information" and "internal information" are two separate entities.

  2. As @YosefBaskin stated in his reply, "you do not have two owners of one importance" thus "their" is not appropriate. "Their importance" implies one importance belonging to a singular group. Your second example using "they" does work, however, because importance is not being treated as a singular object but as a property that "they differ" in. You could say: "Their importances are different" although that would sound awkward since importance isn't generally pluralized. To explain the difference, if you said "their car" it implies one car with multiple owners whereas "their cars" implies multiple cars with an owner each.

  3. Importance is a subjective property and, as you mentioned in the question, an uncountable noun. The amount of something uncountable can be different in different contexts (here, the contexts of "external information" and "internal information"). Taking into account the answer for (2), though, you need to make it clear that each has an importance that differs rather than treating importance as a singular entity shared by both.

  • Thanks. For 1, is "both information" still singular though two separate entities? For 3, what if "their respective information?" Dec 17, 2019 at 4:24
  • 1. You wouldn't use "both information" specifically since it goes back to making information a singular, but adding in the internal and external modifiers makes it two distinct types of information and thus two different entities. If you said "information that is both external and internal," information would be singular instead, so the singular rules would then apply. 3. I assume you meant "importance" not "information," in which case you would say "their respective importances" since each has an importance. wordhippo.com/what-is/the-plural-of/importance.html
    – Jonathan
    Dec 20, 2019 at 19:41
  • Thanks again. For 1, you mean "both external and internal information" will be followed by "are" rather than "is" as two different entities? For 3, both Cambridge and Longman say "importance" is uncountable, but is pluralizing "importance" perforce still valid? Dec 20, 2019 at 21:10
  • That is correct regarding 1 and using "are" rather than "is" since it becomes two different entities. Importance itself is uncountable but each item can have an its own importance which is unique from the other importance, in which case it can be pluralized to my knowledge.
    – Jonathan
    Feb 6, 2020 at 23:53

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