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Why don’t we use the indefinite article with ‘software’?

Can you say "a software" or "the software"? E.g.

That is how you use the software.

marked as duplicate by user11550, MetaEd, user19148, Brian Hooper, RegDwigнt Nov 22 '12 at 10:08

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  • In exceptional contexts, a software does appear acceptable. However, it certainly not used in general to mean an item of software or a software product. The indefinite article is used only when software is adjectival modifying a noun. – Kris Nov 22 '12 at 5:54
  • @Hugo We cannot make a blanket statement. See also my comments. The answer at linked post, too, makes the same mistake, I must say. – Kris Nov 22 '12 at 5:55

Software is uncountable which means that it does not accept the indefinite article "a". In some cases, you can say "some" to convey this more indefinite meaning. It is perfectly acceptable to use a definite article on an uncountable noun and say "the software".

Note: In more rare cases "a software" can be used to denote "a piece of software". Piece, being countable, allows this to happen. Another example is that while the word beer is typically uncountable, "a beer", often comes to mean "a glass of beer".

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    I agree with the first paragraph. However, while "a beer" is perfectly acceptable, saying "a software" is going to get you funny looks at best, and be called flat-out incorrect at worst. – Lynn Nov 22 '12 at 5:31
  • @Lynn Yes, I completely agree. While the usage is very rare, I wanted to make the point that when an uncountable noun acts countable, it is typically done by leaving out a word that would have made the noun phrase countable. Beer was the best way I could think to lead into this as it is considered both countable and uncountable based on usage for this very reason. See the usage note here: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/beers – Sean Cline Nov 22 '12 at 5:44
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    @Kris I don't know if that's a British/American/other thing, but that's categorically wrong in British English. It would be There is software for that or, more likely, You can get software for that or even There's an app for that. But never "a software" as a countable noun. Even though you can say "Some breads have currants in," you can't say "some softwares are badly-written". – Andrew Leach Nov 22 '12 at 7:37
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    @specialscope Yes, you can always refer to a particular instance of a mass noun: the water, the bread, the people... In your sentence you are referring to particular software. – Andrew Leach Nov 22 '12 at 8:57
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    @Kris You're wrong, at least for British English. Software used an adjective never has an elided noun; it's either explicitly an adjective (with a stated noun), or it's a noun. If it's a noun, it's a mass noun and "softwares" is not correct. I'm quite happy to see and use "a software solution", for example, but "a software for that" makes software into a noun, and in that case "a software" is not correct. – Andrew Leach Nov 22 '12 at 11:00

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