I was reading a grammar book the other day, it was mentioned to omit articles "before names of substances and abstract nouns (i.e uncountable nouns)."

The nouns splurge and howler are abstract nouns I believe. However in the following sentences we have to use articles before the above mentioned nouns in order to convey the actual meaning.

Spending 1.5 Lakhs on a computer is a splurge.

How did he fail to score from that position? That was a howler!

Are the given nouns abstract nouns in the first place? If yes then what is the rule for using articles before them ?

  • Why do you believe splurge and howler are abstract nouns?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 9:48
  • 2
    The advice to omit articles "before names of substances and abstract nouns (i.e., uncountable nouns)" is nonsense. Ignore it. It depends on context. "Love", e.g., is an abstract noun. Saying "He loved her with a love so strong" concretizes that particular love. Saying "The love he had for alcohol..." also concretizes that particular love. If you want to talk about love in the abstract, then say "Love is wonderful, the second time around": no article.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 9:52
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    I don't accept the term 'concretises' here - your switch rather 'particularises'. The love is still just as undetectable (directly) by sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch. Doesn't JL call this simply 'countification'? Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 11:19
  • @Edwin: It's as concrete as any other feeling or anything else detected by one of the senses. As Jon Hanna says below: "While you can't point to a splurge ('the splurge is beside the fridge' for example), it counts as a thing rather than [an] abstract[ion]. And it is countable." Perhaps Prof Lawler has called this countification, but he & I agree that the terminology is there to help us talk about things, not to explain things. The verb reify comes to mind reify2.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 13:01
  • Then, too, there's the particularizing of the abstraction love by calling it agape NOUN or "affection, altruism, amity, attachment, benevolence, benignity, bountifulness, bounty, caritas, clemency, fellow feeling, generosity, goodness, goodwill, grace, humaneness, humanity, indulgence, kindliness, lenity, love, magnanimity, mercy, tenderheartedness"
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 13:04

1 Answer 1


A splurge is an act of splurging (spending a large amount of money) and a howler is something that is funny.

While you can't point to a splurge ("the splurge is beside the fridge" for example), it counts as a thing rather than abstract. And it is countable ("Three splurges in one week have left me without any money").

Abstract nouns, by contrast, would include justice, art or hatred. Even then they can have a concrete and abstract sense. He was tortured by hatred and He was tortured by a hatred for his family are both valid.

  • This answer shows confusion. Hatred in both the above examples is abstract (unperceivable directly by physical senses) (though its manifestations may well be directly perceivable). There is a confusion here between mass vs count nouns and concrete vs abstract nouns. In any case, there is debate over a rigid definition of abstract nouns - do 'hole', 'absence', 'occasion' qualify? And saying ' "splurge" counts as a thing rather than [as] abstract' is terribly imprecise. Love is a many-splendored thing: we use the word 'thing' for concepts. I'm not sure who 'accepts' answers, or why. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 11:02
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    @Edwin: "And saying '"splurge" counts as a thing rather than [as] abstract' is terribly imprecise." Yes, I agree, but linguistics isn't physics, math, or engineering. Terminology is only as precise as it needs to be -- What's an adverb, really? And what's a verb tense? Or is that a sentence tense? Not even all hoary old professional linguists agree on what those terms mean. I think the folks who accept answers are users who feel that the answers they've accepted were at least somewhat helpful. Most language is metaphor anyway, so most speech is indirect & imprecise.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 13:14
  • I've come across: 'Because there is a continuous spectrum between the totally abstract and the totally concrete, some words cannot be clearly called one or the other. So many words -- like music, life, test cannot be labeled either abstract or concrete.' at home.comcast.net/~tgeorges/write/les11.htm ; it will keep me happy as a working model. I can't seem to find an article dealing with the concrete - abstract problem in any great depth though - the subject is probably on the philosophical side of semantics, and articles here seem to be not too readily available. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 23:56
  • I think it's better to think of uses or senses as abstract or concrete, not the words themselves. I also think it's unwise to assume that words when used in grammar correspond perfectly to how they are used elsewhere; think of all the dreadful advice to avoid the passive voice because it's "passive" or "denies agency" when it can lead to very active writing that underlines agency. Likewise here.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 0:00
  • I'd like an agreed definition of the compound noun abstract noun, not a treatise on different registers where different polysemes of abstract are used. Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 14:02

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