I believe that there is a subtle semantic difference between skills and skill.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the uncountable noun "skill" refers to the ability to do something well such as expertise while the countable noun "skill(s)" refers to a particular ability.

Moreover, Merriam Webster dictionary classifies "skill" into two categories. The first category refers to one's ability to use knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance; and, the second category refers to a learned (or developed) aptitude or ability.

Is that why the plural form of "skill" is used for the learned or to-be learned ability of performing or executing a particular subject? For example, communication skills (instead of communication skill), English skills (instead of English skill), hairstyling skills (instead of hairstyling skill).

Some would say that the reason for using the plural form is that a subject requires a set of abilities for its performance or execution. If the semantic difference does not exist, this will be the sole reason for using the plural form. On the other hand, if the semantic difference exists, this will another reason .

I would appreciate your answer.

  • 1
    The "meaning" of the noun skill has shifted considerably over the centuries.The vast majority of definitions in the full OED are flagged obsolete or archaic. But their final entry simply says 9: In plural - followed by 5 example usages, all of which are "noun adjuncts" (skills analysis, basic skills instruction, etc.). Which is really just a syntactic distinction, not a semantic one. May 1, 2020 at 11:56
  • 1
    The reference to the uncountable form of the word is probably a red herring here. The real question seems to be: when one speaks of skills as countable, how does one count them? Can those who use the phrase hairstyling skills readily enumerate several skills that the phrase covers? Can they explain what makes them distinct from each other? If they can't do that, why do they use the plural?
    – jsw29
    May 1, 2020 at 16:55
  • It's common to talk about talents, abilities, virtues, etc, in similar ways: "a man of many talents" vs "he has great talent" (at painting, etc); "a person of great virtue" vs "he has several virtues but punctuality is not one". I don't think something needs to be individually enumerable for the plural to make sense - a general sense that there is variety or multiplicity is enough.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 16 at 9:55

1 Answer 1


A skill may be seen as'[exceptional] ability' and, there, it may be used without of without a determiner.

When used to express a generalisation, it may be singular:

"He does it with skill." (not 'skills') "It takes skill to do it." (better than 'skills') "Switching between languages takes great skill."

Otherwise, in most cases we will find 'skill' with an S to mean ("one of several" skills.)

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