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  1. keannu's Avatar
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    #1

    a or no a, that is the question!

    What is the criteria to use a(indefinite article) for mass noun? I think when you specify conceptual mass noun in general, you use singular, while when you have countable products, you use plural, but it's still not hundered percent clear. Please someone help me.

    1. I want to have chicken.(without any chicken available at hand)
    2. I want to have three chickens(with cooked 10 chickens on the table)

  2. freezeframe's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    What is the criteria to use a(indefinite article) for mass noun? I think when you specify conceptual mass noun in general, you use singular, while when you have countable products, you use plural, but it's still not hundered percent clear. Please someone help me.

    1. I want to have chicken.(without any chicken available at hand)
    2. I want to have three chickens(with cooked 10 chickens on the table)
    Mass nouns (uncountable nouns) never take indefinite article.
    They take definite article when they refer to a specific object or idea.

    Countable nouns are not mass nouns. So, I'm unclear about what you mean in the second half of your question.

    Same noun can be countable or uncountable depending on its meaning.

    I want to have chicken. = I would like to eat some meat that comes from birds referred to as chickens (chicken is uncountable).

    I want to have a chicken. = I would like to have a bird that is referred to as chicken (to keep as a pet?) (chicken is countable).

  3. keannu's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    Mass nouns (uncountable nouns) never take indefinite article.
    They take definite article when they refer to a specific object or idea.

    Countable nouns are not mass nouns. So, I'm unclear about what you mean in the second half of your question.

    Same noun can be countable or uncountable depending on its meaning.

    I want to have chicken. = I would like to eat some meat that comes from birds referred to as chickens (chicken is uncountable).

    I want to have a chicken. = I would like to have a bird that is referred to as chicken (to keep as a pet?) (chicken is countable).
    I think what you said "Mass nouns (uncountable nouns) never take indefinite article" is doubtful.
    *I want to drink coffee(mass noun, but not indicating a specific noun)
    *Give us three coffees(maybe either a mass noun or a countable noun, anyway it can be counted in this case for indicating specific coffees)

  4. freezeframe's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    I think what you said "Mass nouns (uncountable nouns) never take indefinite article" is doubtful.
    *I want to drink coffee(mass noun, but not indicating a specific noun)
    *Give us three coffees(maybe either a mass noun or a countable noun, anyway it can be counted in this case for indicating specific coffees)
    You can doubt it all you want but that's not going to change the fact that it's true.

    "Give us three coffees" has an implied measure phrase (or unit): give us three cups of coffee

    I'd like three beers = I'd like three bottles/pints/glasses of beer

  5. keannu's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by freezeframe View Post
    You can doubt it all you want but that's not going to change the fact that it's true.

    "Give us three coffees" has an implied measure phrase (or unit): give us three cups of coffee

    I'd like three beers = I'd like three bottles/pints/glasses of beer
    I don't know why you said mass noun never takes an indefinite article when you can hear I need a coffee. So do you mean a coffee in this case is not a mass noun but a common noun? So a conversion happened from a mass noun to a common noun? Anyway I also lived in Toronto, Canada. Now any more.

  6. freezeframe's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    I don't know why you said mass noun never takes an indefinite article when you can hear I need a coffee. So do you mean a coffee in this case is not a mass noun but a common noun? So a conversion happened from a mass noun to a common noun? Anyway I also lived in Toronto, Canada. Now any more.
    Did you read my reply above?

    Consider checking any grammar book on articles with uncountable nouns.

  7. 5jj's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Part of the problem may be that some dictionaries label nouns as 'countable/count' or 'uncountable/non-count'. It would be more helpful to say that some nouns are used mainly with an uncountable sense, others with a countable sense.

    If you encounter a noun in a plural form, or with 'a' in front of it then it is being used in a countable sense. This is true of most 'mass' noun.

    It is true that there are a few nouns which are (almost) never used in a countable sense, even though their equivalents in other languages may be. 'advice, information, news, furniture' are examples of such words. 'Accommodation' and 'training' were in this group, but they appear to be changing.

  8. Soup's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    What is the criteria to use a (indefinite article) for mass noun?
    Here are the patterns:

    First, set phrases (i.e., DRINKS (containers that cannot be divided) a cup of, a bottle of, a glass of, a bowl of) are often shortened to 'a'. The resulting meaning is still 1 and the mass noun becomes a count noun:


    • I want a cup of coffee.
    • I want a coffee. short for 'a cup of', meaning 1 coffee
    • I want 2 coffees. count noun
    • I want coffee. general sense


    • I want a bottle of Coke.
    • I want a Coke. short for 'a bottle of', meaning 1 Coke
    • I want Coke. general sense


    • I want a glass of milk.
    • I want a milk. short for 'a glass of', meaning 1 milk
    • I want milk. general sense


    • I want a bowl of soup.
    • I want a soup. short for 'a bowl of', meaning 1 soup
    • I want soup. general sense




    Second, set phrases (i.e., FOOD (that can be divided) pizza, cake, chicken, fruit) are often shortened to 'a', the resulting meaning of which is not 1, but rather the whole item:


    • I want a slice of pizza. one slice
    • I want a pizza. the whole pizza
    • I want pizza. general sense


    • I want a piece of chicken. once slice
    • I want a chicken. a whole chicken
    • I want chicken. general sense


    • I want a piece of fruit.
    • I want a fruit. a whole fruit;e.g., banana, apple, etc
    • I want fruit. general sense



    There are, of course, certain mass nouns that don't follow the pattern:


    • I want a slice of bread, cheese.
    • I want *a bread, cheese.
    • I want bread, cheese.


    • I want a spoon of sugar.
    • I want *a sugar Note, I want a pack of sugar; I want a sugar.
    • I want sugar.



    I am certain there are more exceptions and hopefully others will provide us with them so we can gain a better understanding of the patterns above.
    Last edited by Soup; 04-Apr-2011 at 15:08.

  9. 5jj's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by Soup View Post


    • I want a slice of bread, cheese.
    • I want *a bread, cheese.
    • I want bread, cheese.

    I am certain there are more exceptions and hopefully others will provide us with them so we can gain a better understanding of the patterns above.
    I agree with what soup said in that post. I mention the following not as an exception, but as an additional example. Some nouns can be used countably with the sense of 'a type/kind/sort of':

    I don't want that sliced white bread. I want a bread that I can taste.

  10. engee30's Avatar
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    #10

    Re: a or no a, that is the question!

    Quote Originally Posted by Soup View Post
    Here are the patterns:

    First, set phrases (i.e., DRINKS (containers that cannot be divided) a cup of, a bottle of, a glass of, a bowl of) are often shortened to 'a'. The resulting meaning is still 1 and the mass noun becomes a count noun:


    • I want a cup of coffee.
    • I want a coffee. short for 'a cup of', meaning 1 coffee
    • I want 2 coffees. count noun
    • I want coffee. general sense


    • I want a bottle of Coke.
    • I want a Coke. short for 'a bottle of', meaning 1 Coke
    • I want Coke. general sense


    • I want a glass of milk.
    • I want a milk. short for 'a glass of', meaning 1 milk
    • I want milk. general sense


    • I want a bowl of soup.
    • I want a soup. short for 'a bowl of', meaning 1 soup
    • I want soup. general sense


    • I want a spoon of sugar.
    • I want *a sugar Note, I want a pack of sugar; I want a sugar.
    • I want sugar.
    What I'm going to write is only an insight from a non-native speaker's point of view gained from the experience of reading, writing, speaking, hearing, seeing and sometimes thinking English.
    Since there are a lot of different containers you can use with drinks, I'd go for saying that the indefinite article used with drinks means, roughly speaking, one (container of).
    As for sugar, I want a sugar = I want one (teaspoon/lump of) sugar.
    Obviously, if we want to be more precise, we need to use the specific terms for particular containers in any context.

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