Noun: Number – Part 2

March 29th, 20121:47 pm


Noun: Number – Part 2

Noun: Number – Part 1

The two subclasses of uncountable nouns are usually referred to, re­spectively, as singularia tantum (only singular) and pluralia tantum (only plural).

The singularia tantum subclass may also be referred to as the “absolute” singular, and is different from “common” singular of the countable nouns in that the absolute singular excludes the use of the modifying numeral one, as well as the indefinite article.

The absolute singular is characteristic of the names of abstract notions (peace, love, joy, courage, friendship), the names of the branches of profes­sional activity (chemistry, linguistics, economics), the names of materials (water, snow, steel), the names of collective inanimate objects (foliage, fruit, furniture, machinery). Some of these words can be used in the form of the common singular with the common plural counterpart, but in this case they come to mean either different sorts of materials, or separate concrete mani­festations of the qualities denoted by abstract nouns, or concrete objects exhibiting the respective qualities:

It was a joy to see her. The best sweet wines are produced in Cyprus.

Common number with uncountable singular nouns can also be expressed by means of combining them with words showing discreteness, such as a bit, a piece, an item, a sort: items of news, a bit of information, a piece of furniture.

On the other hand, the absolute singular can be used with countable nouns. In such cases the nouns are taken to express either the corresponding abstract ideas, or else the meaning of some mass-material correlated with its countable referent:

Have we got chicken for the second course?

Under this heading comes also the generic use of the singular:

Man’s immortality lies in his deeds.

In the sphere of the plural, the absolute plural form, peculiar to the un­countable subclass of pluralia tantum nouns, cannot directly combine with numerals, and only occasionally does it combine with discrete quantifiers (many, few).

The absolute plural is characteristic of the uncountable nouns which de­note objects consisting of two halves (trousers, scissors, tongs, spectacles), the nouns expressing some sort of collective meaning, i.e. rendering the idea of indefinite plurality, both concrete and abstract (supplies, outskirts, clothes, earnings, contents, police, cattle, poultry), the mums denoting some diseases as well as some abnormal states of the mind and body (measles, mumps, creeps, hysterics).

The necessity of expressing definite members in cases of uncountable pluralia tantum nouns has brought about different supplelivе combinations specific to the plural form of the noun, which exist alongside of the supple-tive combinations specific to the singular form of the noun shown above. Here belong collocations with such words as pair, set, group, hunch: a pair of bathing trunks, a group of police, a set of dice, a case of measles.

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