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I have the following sentence and need your help:

"Electric heating devices can use existing infrastructure (s), like a hot water tank or the building mass, for thermal storage."

The question is, whether I should use the singular or plural form of 'infrastructure' in this context? I'd appreciate every comment.

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  • Note that using the singular form 'infrastructure' here is not using the 'singular noun', but rather the non-count usage (which is identical in form). This is deducible from the fact that no article is used. The choice is yours, though these Google 3-grams would seem to support my feeling that the non-count . – Edwin Ashworth Apr 16 '20 at 10:30
  • .. usage is more common. The plural usage would be chosen to highlight (/ encourage people to consider) different possible set-ups / systems. //// (Actually, I'd use the non-count usage, but switch to 'including say ...' A hot water tank say is part of the infrastructure, not a complete infrastructure.) – Edwin Ashworth Apr 16 '20 at 10:30
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Note that using the singular form infrastructure in the way you do here is not using the 'singular noun', but rather the non-count usage (which is identical in form to the singular count usage). This is deducible from the fact that no article is used.

The choice between using the singular arguably count ('the existing infrastructure') or unarguably non-count ('existing infrastructure') (anarthrous, ie no article) of the lexeme is yours, though these Google n-grams ('using existing infrastructure', 'using the existing infrastructure', 'using existing infrastructures') would seem to support my feeling that the non-count usage is more common.

The plural usage would be chosen to highlight (/ encourage people to consider) different possible set-ups / systems. While certainly not ungrammatical, it's less usual, and I'd say unnecessary. And a hot water tank is hardly an infrastructure (the central heating system would qualify). Again, note that the definite article in 'the central heating system', 'the existing infrastructure' is licensed even if not mentioned previously provided that you've mentioned say 'domestic heating' (perhaps only in your title).

Collins CoBuild correctly identifies that infrastructure may be used in both count and non-count usages:

infrastructure Word forms: infrastructures

(variable noun) [ie occurs in both count and non-count usages] ...

[Some] other dictionaries are inaccurate here. CED, for instance, has

infrastructure noun (C usually singular)

............

Actually, I'd use the non-count usage, but switch to

  • '... can make use of existing infrastructure, perhaps using a hot water tank or the building mass...'

This is because a hot water tank (etc) is part of the/an infrastructure, and not a complete infrastructure.

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In the previous line/paragraph, if you've already written about the infrastructure that you're trying to point to in this sentence, then the following would work:

Electric heating devices can use the existing infrastructure, such as the hot water tank or the building mass, for thermal storage.

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  • Thanks kayvis for your comment. Unfortunately I have not written about the infrastructure in the previous lines and I can't do this because this text comes from an abstract of a scientific paper and the number of words is restricted. Given this, would you use singular or plural – PeterBe Apr 16 '20 at 10:29
  • @PeterBe In that case, both infrastructure and infrastructures would work. I'm inclined towards the plural form, infrastructures though. Reference: english.stackexchange.com/questions/287855/… – kayvis Apr 16 '20 at 10:36
  • Why not “existing structures”. Drop the infra. – Xanne Apr 16 '20 at 21:06
  • @Xanne, because the context of the 'structure' is not defined in any of the sentences prior to this. Given the examples (mentioned after like/such as) 'structures' seems too generic to me. – kayvis Apr 17 '20 at 11:18

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