Not entirely sure how to describe this but I'll try.

One type of objects have the property that they are typically regarded as "multiple" when multiple copies are placed together, e.g. put two apples together and they are seen as a collection of two entities (apples).

The other type of objects are typically still regarded as "single" in this scenario, e.g. mix two cups of water together and it's still seen as "one entity".

Is there a pair of words for these properties? "Countable v.s. uncountable" is somewhat close but not focusing on what happens after combination of multiple copies.

  • Hello, UM-Li. This is typically exemplified by say two liquids, which when poured into a beaker together and shaken can, after settling, be seen to be miscible or immiscible (at least to a first approximation). But these two words don't apply generally to your situation. // In fact, two-component systems can often be regarded as a single mixed entity or a combined whole. This is seen in the treatment of agreement known as logical/notional agreement of verb form with collective noun (The team was founded in 1878 / The team were fighting amongst themselves in the tunnel). Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 11:44
  • Liquid/fluid vs solid? I'm not clear on the exact distinction you're making. Maybe think about things such as blobs of clay or stackable bricks which can be joined, or putting things in a box, or suspending a solid in a liquid: which category would they go in.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 15:24

1 Answer 1


You have two options, depending on how technical you want to go.

A mass noun or non-count noun refers to a quantity that is treated as a composite unit. One cannot ordinarily modify the mass noun with a numeral without a unit of measurement. For instance, rather than referring to four sands or ten rices (a numeral and a plural noun), we just refer to sand or rice. If you add some rice, then you have more rice, but that addition is only countable using some other unit - grains, grams, ounces. The contrast would be a count noun.

A related property you are appealing to is called cumulativity in linguistics (Wikipedia):

In linguistic semantics, an expression X is said to have cumulative reference if and only if the following holds: If X is true of both of a and b, then it is also true of the combination of a and b. Example: If two separate entities can be said to be "water", then combining them into one entity will yield more "water". If two separate entities can be said to be "a house", their combination cannot be said to be "a house". Hence, "water" has cumulative reference, while the expression "a house" does not.

So mass nouns like water use cumulative reference: add water to water and you have water (1+1=1). So, incidentally, do plurals: if you add houses to houses, then the result is still houses (plural+plural=plural).

The contrast is quantization or quantized reference (Wikipedia; see also Fleischhauer and Gabrovska, 103), where you have one banana but the form changes upon counting (two bananas). Another way to think of it is trying to divide an apple versus dividing water. There is no subpart of apple that is a whole apple (1 divided by 2 is a half), but you can divide water to get subparts of water (mass divided by half is still mass). The apple is quantized; water isn't.

Note that the latter terms (cumulative, quantized) are quite technical and not commonly known. Mass nouns and count nouns are at least more familiar terms to someone who has gone through a grammar class.

  • But add bitter (beer) to mild and one gets 'mixed' (or used to, back in the day). Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 19:12

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