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    #1

    responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    The origin of life on Earth is unknown. (OK)
    The origin of a life on Earth is unknown. (Not OK)

    We had a good time. (OK)
    We had good time. (Not OK)

    I feel a responsibility for my ancestors when I play. (OK)
    I feel responsibility for my ancestors when I play. (OK)


    Why can responsibility be used both countably and uncountably in the same context, while time and life can't?

    (This thread is related to https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/t...nsibility-quot)
    (Maybe it should be moved to General Language Discussions)

    Last edited by Alexey86; 19-Sep-2020 at 19:00.
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    #2

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    (Maybe it should be moved to General Language Discussions)
    Done.
    I am not a teacher.

  3. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    The origin of life on Earth is unknown. (OK)
    The origin of a life on Earth is unknown. (Not OK)

    It's possible to know the origin of one life. My life originated at Lutheran Hospital in New York City. It's impossible to know the exact origin of life in general.


    We had a good time. (OK)
    We had good time. (Not OK)

    You're referring to exactly one good time. That's countable. You could also have some good times. Those are also countable.


    I feel a responsibility
    to my ancestors when I play. (OK)
    I feel responsibility
    to my ancestors when I play. (OK)

    It depends on whether you're thinking of one particular responsibility (maybe you made a promise at your grandmother's deathbed) or a general sense of responsibility, an overall sense of duty to your family.

    Why can responsibility be used both countably and uncountably in the same context, while time and life can't?

    Those weren't the same contexts.

    This might be a good question to return to in a few years.
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

  4. Senior Member
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    #4

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    It's impossible to know the exact origin of life in general.
    I think scientists would disagree. If they thought it's impossible, they wouldn't have been trying to solve this problem for decades.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    It depends on whether you're thinking of one particular responsibility or a general sense of responsibility, an overall sense of duty to your family.
    Why can't we apply this to time and say, "We had good time" referring to it as a mass noun? We can do that to bread: "I ate bread yesterday" vs "I ate a slice of bread yesterday."

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Those weren't the same contexts.
    They're the same in terms of the linguistic context around the article: "I feel [zero/a] responsibility to my ancestors when I play."
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  5. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post


    I think scientists would disagree. If they thought it's impossible, they wouldn't have been trying to solve this problem for decades.

    Let's keep it real. TODAY it's impossible.


    Why can't we apply this to time and say, "We had good time" referring to it as a mass noun?

    Because in the context of one or more shared activities, it wouldn't make sense. Uncountable time isn't good or bad and can't be had. It's just time.


    We can do that to bread: "I ate bread yesterday" vs "I ate a slice of bread yesterday."

    Yes. And we can say "I ate the bread yesterday."


    They're the same in terms of the linguistic context around the article: "I feel [zero/a] responsibility to my ancestors when I play."

    Right. That's why I said the contexts are different. You're not comparing similar ideas.
    You're welcome to do it your way. But for the reasons I gave you (and for reasons others gave you in Rachel's thread), it won't sound natural. It will sound like you're still learning English.
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

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    #6

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    You're welcome to do it your way. But for the reasons I gave you (and for reasons others gave you in Rachel's thread), it won't sound natural. It will sound like you're still learning English.
    My question is not about usage. I know that "We had good time" is incorrect and I'm not going to use it. I'm exploring countability from the point of view of semantics and syntax.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Uncountable time isn't good or bad and can't be had.
    It can be had in "Do you have time?"
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    #7

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    Why can responsibility be used both countably and uncountably in the same context, while time and life can't?
    I don't think your question's right. Plus I don't know what you mean by 'OK' and 'Not OK'.

    Strictly speaking, no word can ever be used countably and uncountably in the same context because that would necessarily mean different contexts. The context is what tells us whether a word is used countably or uncountably (the presence/absence of an article). I assume you're talking about the two different contexts of the two sentences in post #1. These use different senses of the word responsibility. The context doesn't affect this.

    Who says time and life can't be be used both countably and uncountably in otherwise similar contexts? That's not right. Where did you get that idea from?

    The thing I think you're not getting is the difference in meaning between countable and uncountable nouns. Context is just a way of making meaning comprehensible. Sometimes a countable/uncountable use of a noun may not make sense in a certain sentence. Whether it does or not depends on the meaning of the utterance as a whole.
    Last edited by jutfrank; 20-Sep-2020 at 05:24.

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    #8

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I don't think your question's right. Plus I don't know what you mean by 'OK' and 'Not OK'.
    I mean how sentences sound to the hearer. Both examples with responsibility sound OK and make sense unlike have good time or origin of a life.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Who says time and life can't be be used both countably and uncountably in otherwise similar contexts? That's not right. Where did you get that idea from?
    I should've clarified that I meant linguistic context, just words that precede and follow an article: We had [zero/a] good time.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    The thing I think you're not getting is the difference in meaning between countable and uncountable nouns.
    Between some of such nouns. The problem with responsibility is that it's strictly uncountable in Russian like advice in English (which is countable in Russian). When we want to express the idea of countability we use duty/obligation/commitment. Can I think of a responsibility that way?
    Last edited by Alexey86; 20-Sep-2020 at 11:31.
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  9. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    Between some of such nouns.
    I mean between all of them. Difference in countability is a difference in meaning.

    When we want to express the idea of countability [in Russian] we use duty/obligation/commitment. Can I think of a responsibility that way?
    Yes. The differences between:

    responsibility/a responsibility
    obligation/an obligation
    duty/a duty
    commitment/a commitment


    are essentially equivalent.

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    #10

    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I mean between all of them. Difference in countability is a difference in meaning.
    I agree about the difference, but why do you stress all? I have no problem with countability most of the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Yes. The differences between:

    responsibility/a responsibility
    obligation/an obligation
    duty/a duty
    commitment/a commitment


    are essentially equivalent.
    So, when "responsibility" is specified by the "to do something" part, it's countable. For example, the article in "I have a responsibility to protect these people" is required, right?
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