Here's one sentence from "The grammar book. An ESL/EFL teachers course by Celce-Murcia and Larcen Freeman.

In some preliminary research Bergsnev(1976) has shown that abstract nouns derived from verbs and adjectives often have both a mass and a count form for expressing a generality in English,e.g:…

The bold part of phrase is what sort of puzzles me. Coordination is a vast subject consisting of numerous different points and nuances that pretty often may result in ambiguity and vagueness.

Both a mass and a count form - at first sight seems to be okay. As may be noticed, this is just ellipsis of the word "form".

But, shouldn't it be "a mass and a count forms - then?

That has never given rise to difficulties for me, but now having started analyzing the sentence and trying to look up "coordination" in "A comprehensive grammar of the English language I'm being rather doubtful.

So the question is - what is the rule of coordination that's being used in this example and why not use the plural form of the noun?

  • 1
    It's "An ESL/EFL Teachers' Course" with an apostrophe and capitalization. www.amazon.com/Grammar-Book-Teachers-Course-Second/dp/0838447252
    – Kris
    Jan 16, 2012 at 5:16

3 Answers 3


The important thing is that both coordinated tokens should coordinate to each other, and to the following expression which they are modifying.

In this case, in singular form:

often have a mass form
often have a count form

you can now use the construction both ... and ...:

often have both a mass form and a count form

or the better, avoiding redundancy (the version that was used in your book):

often have both a mass and a count form

Now the plural form:

often have mass forms
often have count forms

Using the both ... and ... expression:

often have both count forms and mass forms

or, again, avoiding redundancy:

often have both count and mass forms.

See how they coordinate well with each other? The expressions between both and and always coordinate with the ending expression, so, often have both a count and a mass forms would be grammatically incorrect.


I think the answer to your question lies under the usage of "a" - which is used as determiner in "have both a mass and a count form". Let me give a similar example first, so we can compare to see why the noun "form" is used as singular:

They have a red and a green apple.
They have red and green apples.
They have a red and green apple.

In first, they have two apples - one of which is green and other is red. In the second, they have apples but we are not sure if some apples have both red and green colors or some of them are green and the others are red. In third, they have an apple and this apple has green and red colors.

So, usage of determiner "a" effects the meaning and form.

  • 1
    I think you are missing an a, like in They have a red and green apple.
    – drakorg
    Jan 14, 2012 at 19:20
  • you're also missing 'the' before "other"
    – Desert
    Jan 15, 2012 at 9:46

I suppose you are referring to coordinating conjunctions, like and, but, or.

Both is used when we want to emphasise that there are two people or things regarded together. It might look superfluous, but its use is quite common. Look at the following sentence:

Both his parents loved him dearly.

Everyone has two parents, at least biologically speaking. There's no real need to emphasise the fact that both of them loved him, but it makes the sentence and the meaning it conveys stronger. In a different structure:

Both his mother and his father loved him dearly.

The sentence could be of course simpler, i.e. His mother and his father loved him dearly, but it wouldn't be as powerful.

  • Thank you for your answer. However, I'm well aware of the usage of "both structures" and its usage. But what kind of puzzled me is the bold phrase. "both a mass and a count form"... For some reason, it seems to me that we'd better use the plural form of the noun, although since this sentence is given as an example in a book of such a high level it can no way contain a mistake.
    – Desert
    Jan 14, 2012 at 17:51
  • @Desert: It is not a mistake. You don't use the plural form of the noun in this structure. In another example: Cars were parked both on the left and on the right side of the road. The use of sides in the plural form would be ungrammatical. Left side and right side are regarded as one thing at a time.
    – Irene
    Jan 14, 2012 at 18:00
  • 1
    Re your incorrect "Cars were parked..." side vs. sides example, semantics dictates usage of the latter: a car (from among the cars) cannot be parked both on the left and on the right side; but cars can be parked on both sides. Jan 15, 2012 at 1:21

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