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Thread: I can't count!

  1. #1
    Hong Kong Chinese Guest

    Default I can't count!

    I need some expert advice on how to discern which nouns are countable and which are uncountable in a fast easy method.

    The physical objects of Fish, Equipment, Luggage, etc cannot be counted, but in fact in real life they can be counted by us, Chinese.

    And I am still wondering why the abstract noun – expression – can be counted. It appears that we cannot say, ‘one expression, two expression and so on.’

  2. #2
    RonBee's Avatar
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    You can count fish. You can have two or more fish. (The plural of fish is fish.) Also, abstract nouns are countable just as concrete nouns are. You can have thoughts, expressions, ideas, actions, etc.

    :)

    [Edited for spelling.]

  3. #3
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    Default Re: I can't count!

    Quote Originally Posted by Hong Kong Chinese
    I need some expert advice on how to discern which nouns are countable and which are uncountable in a fast easy method.
    Well, you've hit on a great area of research--one that has no easy answers. The dictionary is the fastest method I know of. Irregularities are for the most part do to a word's history. Take "fish", for example, which comes from Latin, and equipment, which comes from French, and luggage, which also comes from French. All of the items those words refer to CAN be counted in Chinese as well as in English. :D IN other words, just because a noun doesn't take -s in the plural doesn't mean to say that it's non-count. "fish" for example does in fact have a plural form: it's fish. And there's also the new word 'fishes':

    Biologist use the word fish for more than one animal of the same type:
    "I swam with a school of 200 fish in Bimini."

    Biologist use the word fishes for more than one animal of different types:
    "The reef in is crowded with fishes."

    Source: http://www.reefnews.com/reefnews/index/fishes.html

    The word "fish" was borrowed into English, Old English to be excat, from Latin, "pisc-is". Here's what happened to its form after we borrowed it:

    1) [p]isc-is became [f]isc-is.
    (That sound change is known as Grimm's Law)

    2) fisc-is became fish-is > fish-s > fish.
    (That sound change is known as i-umlaut.)

    At the time those sound changes were taking place in Old English, -s was added to nouns to form the plural; but the word piscis was an exception because it ended in -s already, so -s wasn't added, which gives us Modern English fish (sg.), fish (pl.)

    The words 'dish, dishes' have another history. "dishes" comes from Latin 'discus'.

    Other oddities include 'moose', which comes from Algonquian (a First Nation language). Algonquian speakers used 'moos-' as a non-count noun to refer to the flesh of an animal. English speakers borrowed 'moose' as a name for the animal, and because the Algonquians didn't use plural -s, neither did the English speakers. Today, the plural of 'moose' is 'moose'. The same holds true for other borrowed words like sushi (Japanese) and shrimp (Old Norse).

    English has borrowed a lot of husbandry (farming) terms from Germanic. Take the word 'sheep' which was used as a non-count noun to denote the flesh of the animal, and the word milk and other animal derivative products, such as cheese, wool, and meat which do not generally take -s.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hong Kong Chinese
    And I am still wondering why the abstract noun – expression – can be counted. It appears that we cannot say, ‘one expression, two expression and so on.’
    When I say, "He has an expression on his face", I'm referring to the number of facial expressions that humans can make. I can count them.

    The word experience functions the same way. When I say, "I had a great experience", I'm referring to the number of experiences I've had. I can count them. When I say, "I need some experience", I'm referring to an abstract idea, something I cannot count.

    As RonBee points out, both concrete and abstract nouns take -s. In general, though, concrete nouns (things we can touch) usually take -s, whereas abstract nouns (things we cannot touch) usually don't take -s. Note the word "usually". There are exceptions. If you do a search on the Web under "abstract nouns" or "non-count nouns", you'll find a treasure trove of examples.

    :D

  4. #4
    Hong Kong Chinese Guest

    Default Thank You!

    I am amazed at the reply of Casiopea of my short message! Her posting reminds me that I am reading books on English. I need time to digest her information.

    Casiopea, Thank you very much!

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