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    Default A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    We know, of course, that collective nouns are not treated the same in BrE and AmE. In American English, collective nouns are always singular, and in British English collective nouns can be either plural or singular. There seems, however, to be a kind of exception to this in American English. The collective noun "police" is always plural. As well, we can't count police, so this makes it an uncountable noun. In order to count police, we have to say "policeman" or "policewoman", which follows with the plural forms "policemen" or "policewomen".

    Are there any other words such as this in American English - a collective noun that is always treated as a plural, while at the same time is uncountable?

    Also, why would you suppose that "police" is an exception? Why should we be able to treat an uncountable noun as a plural? We cannot say "one police" because "police" is an uncountable noun. However, we do say "the police are here", for example.

    What's happening here? Why does "police" seem to be such a unique exception in English grammar?
    Last edited by PROESL; 13-Aug-2009 at 23:21.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    I am not sure that "police" can never be countable. Two police came to the door today.

    Dictionary.com offers the following sentence. "Several police are patrolling the neighborhood."

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Quote Originally Posted by 2006 View Post
    I am not sure that "police" can never be countable. Two police came to the door today.

    Dictionary.com offers the following sentence. "Several police are patrolling the neighborhood."
    That's interesting. I wouldn't typically use "police" that way. If I say
    "How many police are in the parking lot?", I think it sounds just slighlty odd, at least. Maybe this is because most people say "cops".

    On the other hand, "police" is often treated as an uncountable, as in "the police are here". One could say this without indicating one or more than one. That's kind of unique. Why would you suppose that's so?

    What other professions can be identified with a noun that can be treated as both a countable and uncountable noun? That's one word. What other profession has a word that refers to it in the same way that "police" refers to "police"?
    Last edited by PROESL; 12-Aug-2009 at 02:47.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Noun Correction

    Here we can see that the term "police" is listed as a special case among plural forms of nouns.

    Special cases
    The following nouns are conceived as plural rather than singular and so have only the plural form:
    headquarters goods clothes premises means police people
    e.g. The police are looking for larger premises to build the new headquarters.

    _________________________________________________

    It appears in this Wiki article that others understand "police" as an uncountable.


    SOME UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS ARE PLURAL. These have no singular form. e.g. clothes, groceries, thanks, jeans, police, trousers, scissors.

    __________________________________________________ ______

    collective nouns

    There are some collective nouns which have singular forms but are followed by plural verbs. This mean they have singular forms but have plural sense. For example police, people, military, cattle.

    __________________________________________________ _____

    Here's another reference that considers "police" to be uncountable.

    police

    Noun
    Singular
    police

    Plural



    police (uncountable)
    1. An organisation granted the legal authority to enforce the law. See usage note.
    __________________________________________________ ______



    Compared with the uncountable singular nouns, the family of uncountable plural nouns is relatively small. Here are 10 more members:
    • Trousers (are)
    • Clothes
    • Scissors
    • Pyjamas
    • Pants
    • Shorts
    • Dungarees
    • The police
    • Binoculars
    __________________________________________________ ______

    Here's another example of "police" referred to as an uncountable noun.

    police listed as uncountable


    __________________________________________________ _______

    police

    The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English provides an interesting instrucion for dealing with the word "police", and it's what I would say as well. It's interesting that we can find examples of "two police" and "three police", yet the LDOC says don't say "a police", which means "one police".

    ! Police is a plural noun. Do not say 'a police'. Say a police officer, a policeman, or a policewoman: The police were called. | A police officer came. military police, secret police
    Last edited by PROESL; 12-Aug-2009 at 02:46.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    What other professions can be identified with a noun that can be treated as both a countable and uncountable noun? That's one word. Whatever profession has a word that refers to it in the same way that "police" refers to "police"?
    Do you consider 'staff' to be countable? Is it at all similar to 'police', in your mind?
    We have three full-time staff.

    I didn't have much time to think about this question, but 'staff' came to mind.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Quote Originally Posted by 2006 View Post
    Do you consider 'staff' to be countable? Is it at all similar to 'police', in your mind?
    We have three full-time staff.

    I didn't have much time to think about this question, but 'staff' came to mind.
    It's kind of similar in a way. I've heard "staff is" and "staff are" in American English. I would always say "staff is", however. To me, it's singular - one staff - two staff members.

    The thing about "police" is that I have noted that other people seem to perceive of "police" as an uncountable. Now, even for those who don't consider such things as countable and uncountable noun - those not involved in ESL in any way - I would bet that some or many of them would think that "three police", for example, might sound a bit odd and would usually opt to say "three policemen". The fact that some people, in the first place, would understand that "police" is uncountable kind of allows for a unique comparison to other uncountable nouns, such as substances.

    One could say, "There are police everywhere tonight, so don't go over the speed limit because you'll likely get a ticket." In much the same way, one could say "There is ice everywhere, so walk carefully, or you could slip and fall". The interesting thing, of course, is that "police" is plural while "ice" is not. This is strictly viewing the word "police" as an uncountable noun if one so chooses to do so. I would say it's a plausible idea despite the fact that the dictionary lists "police" as a plural. Of course, this calls to mind that there are other nouns that can be countable and uncountable such as food, fruit, and fish. Come to think of it, it seems that "fish" works in a similar way to "police" as a noun. We can say "There are fish in the sea" and we can say "There are police all along the highway".
    Last edited by PROESL; 12-Aug-2009 at 03:24.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    If a cat is run over on the street and some of its parts are spread out, we don't say "there's cat all over the street". We speak of cat body parts or pieces of a cat. Now, structurally there's nothing wrong with saying "there's cat all over the street". What makes saying "there's cat all over the street" wrong is how we perceive of the dead body of a cat - a whole unit from which there are parts.

    Why does it really sound odd to say "there's cat all over the street", but it's perfectly normal to say "there's mud all over the floor. We'll have to clean it up later after we finish working."? We don't think of "mud" as having separate parts. It's a substance that can be spread out. Now, if there are cat parts all over the street, why must we think of a cat as being something with separate parts? Why do we think this way about a cat, but not this way about mud? Why do we not force ourselves to say "there are spots of mud all over the floor" in the same way we would say "there are pieces of cat all over the street"?
    Last edited by PROESL; 12-Aug-2009 at 02:48.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    If a cat is run over on the street and some of its parts are spread out, we don't say "there's cat all over the street". We speak of cat body parts or pieces of a cat. Now, structurally there's nothing wrong with saying "there's cat all over the street". What makes saying "there's cat all over the street" wrong is how we perceive of the dead body of a cat - a whole unit from which there are parts.

    Why does it really sound odd to say "there's cat all over the street", but it's perfectly normal to say "there's mud all over the floor. We'll have to clean it up later after we finish working."? We don't think of "mud" as having separate parts. It's a substance that can be spread out. Now, if there are cat parts all over the street, why must we think of a cat as being something with separate parts? Why do we think this way about a cat, but not this way about mud? Why do we not force ourselves to say "there are spots of mud all over the floor" in the same way we would say "there are pieces of cat all over the street"?
    We don't say "there's cat all over the street" because this is offensive to the dignity of the cat, or cats in general, which are sentient beings. And this is one reason why it would sound strange to say such a thing.

    By the way, I took the idea about talking about a cat in this way from "The Stuff of Thought" by Steven Pinker. It was a passage in one of the chapters. I did not, however, quote from the book. This passage just happened to be memorable to me. I don't remember which page or chapter it came from.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    We don't say "there's cat all over the street" because this is offensive to the dignity of the cat, or cats in general, which are sentient beings. And this is one reason why it would sound strange to say such a thing.

    By the way, I took the idea about talking about a cat in this way from "The Stuff of Thought" by Steven Pinker. It was a passage in one of the chapters. I did not, however, quote from the book. This passage just happened to be memorable to me. I don't remember which page or chapter it came from.
    Let us consider further that some people are very inclined to think of "police", even though it's an irregular plural, as an uncountable noun. We've seen evidence of this in some online postings or references, and we've seen that there is at least some confusion about this word when we view how the Longman Dictionary instructs readers to use this term.

    Okay, for the sake of argument, let's think of "police" as an uncountable noun.

    By comparison, one might find it interesting that we cannot say, or do not say, "there's cat all over the street", but we can say "there are police all over the city tonight". That's kind of interesting.

    We can also say, "there's mud all over the floor." If we want to divide up mud into separate parts, we can change this to "there are spots of mud all over the floor" without changing the form of the noun. However, if we want to do the same with the noun "police", in the sentence "there are police all over the city tonight" we have to change the form of the noun to "policemen", "policewoman", or "police officers". So there is no way to divide up the noun "police" into separate parts unless we change the form of the noun "police".

    Remember, some people are inclined to think of "police" as an uncountable noun, aren't they? Yes, they are.
    Last edited by PROESL; 13-Aug-2009 at 16:46.

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    Default Re: A Unique Collective and Uncountable Noun: Police

    Quote Originally Posted by PROESL View Post
    Let us consider further that some people are very inclined to think of "police", even though it's an irregular plural, as an uncountable noun. We've seen evidence of this in some online postings or references, and we've seen that there is at least some confusion about this word when we view how the Longman Dictionary instructs readers to use this term.

    Okay, for the sake of argument, let's think of "police" as an uncountable noun.

    By comparison, one might find it interesting that we cannot say, or do not say, "there's cat all over the street", but we can say "there are police all over the city tonight". That's kind of interesting.

    We can also say, "there's mud all over the floor." If we want to divide up mud into separate parts, we can change this to "there are spots of mud all over the floor" without changing the form of the noun. However, if we want to do the same with the noun "police", in the sentence "there are police all over the city tonight" we have to change the form of the noun to "policemen", "policewoman", or "police officers". So there is no way to divide up the noun "police" into separate parts unless we change the form of the noun "police".

    Remember, some people are inclined to think of "police" as an uncountable noun, aren't they? Yes, they are.
    I feel that I'm correct about my view of "police" as an uncountable noun even though it takes a plural verb. I just spoke to two women who work at the reception desk at my dentist's office. They are native speakers of English who are not involved in ESL, and they do not consider such fine points of grammar as this.

    To them, "three police" sounds strange. They said they would always say "three policemen", "three policewomen", "three police officers", or "three cops". To them, the word "police" does not qualify as word to indicate individual police officers. This is also supported by the fact that when we say something like "the police are here" or "the police are in the parking lot", there's really no way to establish that there is one or more than one until one asks "how many are there?". And according to my casual survey, so far, saying "three police" as a possible reply would sound strange to native speakers of USA English. I would wager that if I ask more people, I will get the same answer or similar.

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