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  1. #21
    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    I feel helpless. I don't understand why you're lost.
    I feel the same. Could you try one more time to explain what you're asking?

    I think I understand your point about the glass, so let's stay there first. If someone uses the countable a glass, this would make me think of an object (a thing). So I would be surprised to see smashed glass on the floor, because that would have been much better described by using an uncountable noun, since in that state it looks not like a thing but like stuff.

    Is that right so far? Have I understood?

    (Let's leave obligation aside for a minute. The fact that you're asking about the preposition phrase under obligation is especially complicating.)

  2. #22
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Is that right so far? Have I understood?
    I couldn't have put it better myself.
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  3. #23
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Okay, good. I want to make it clear that we simultaneously hold two competing theories of matter in mind: matter as things and matter as stuff.

    Your example of glass is an excellent illustration of this not least because glass is concrete matter, made of protons and electrons. However, when dealing with abstract matter, things get much harder to understand. Still, I believe that we conceive countable and uncountable abstract nouns in the precisely the same dualistic way as we conceive concrete ones.

    In the same way that you can understand a wine glass as a single, discrete instantiation of glass material, you can understand a responsibility as a single, discrete instantiation of the concept of responsibility. A crude way to put this is that responsibility denotes a general concept and a responsibility denotes a specific concept.

    In terms of linguistic context, I can see that this can serve only to give us clues as to which concept is meant in the mind of the speaker. Whether a countable/uncountable noun is appropriate in a particular context is completely dependent on which theory of matter the speaker is holding in mind.

  4. #24
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    In the same way that you can understand a wine glass as a single, discrete instantiation of glass material, you can understand a responsibility as a single, discrete instantiation of the concept of responsibility. A crude way to put this is that responsibility denotes a general concept and a responsibility denotes a specific concept.
    I have no difficulty seeing a responsibility as a discrete entity. But I can't (sorry, still can't) see responsibility/obligation to do something as mass entities. To my ear, the to do something part makes them specific and discrete. That's why I ask you to come up with a real-life situation where you would be surprised to hear "I have a responsibility/am under an obligation to protect these people", where this use would clash with your view of reality/the facts you know and make you think "Wait, it must be responsibility/obligation...because...". Of course, it's not as easy as with the glass example because of the abstract nature of these notions. There are no pictures of them, but they are still part of the reality we live in and, therefore, utterances containing them can clash with it, surprising people.

    Let's take introduction. If I heard either "Introduction is an important part of a book" or "An introduction of other more applicable methods seems to be necessary", I would be surprised because the former is a discrete part of a book ("thing"), while the latter is an action of introducing. Both utterances would contradict reality as I know it. Frankly, I'm not sure whether this case is more about the utterance-reality or utterance-grammar relationship because both sentences (especially the first one) seem ungrammatical to me, while the responsibility/obligation example isn't a grammar issue.


    Last edited by Alexey86; 22-Sep-2020 at 19:42.
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  5. #25
    Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    Isn't that surprising? (Please, don't say "No".)

    I'm not surprised so far.


    Two observations on countability:

    1. I've found numerous examples of "to be under obligation to do something" and not a single one of "to have obligation to do something".

    Try have an obligation.


    2. I've found no examples of "to have obligation/duty to do something" and several ones of "to have responsibility to do something".
    Try have a responsibility or have the responsibility.I can't explain this difference.

    I can't either.
    Sometimes a little article makes a big difference.
    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.

  6. #26
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Try have an obligation.
    Try have a responsibility or have the responsibility.
    But that's my point, which I've obviously failed to explain clearly.

    We can find both to be under an obligation to do something and to be under obligation to do something, but there's no to have obligation to do something, only to have an obligation to do something. At the same time, there're examples of to have responsibility to do something (https://ludwig.guru/s/have+responsibility+to). Why is that so?

    And I'll repeat my main question: can anyone imagine a situation in which (s)he would be surprised by under an obligation to do something by analogy with the glass or introduction examples?
    Last edited by Alexey86; 25-Sep-2020 at 00:28.
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  7. #27
    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    We can find both to be under an obligation to do something and to be under obligation to do something, but there's no to have obligation to do something, only to have an obligation to do something. At the same time, there're examples of to have responsibility to do something (https://ludwig.guru/s/have+responsibility+to). Why is that so?
    Are you saying you can't find examples of have obligation (uncountable)?

    Here: https://ludwig.guru/s/have+obligation

    The reason there aren't many is that it doesn't collocate very well. We prefer to say be obliged to do something.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    And I'll repeat my main question: can anyone imagine a situation in which (s)he would be surprised by under an obligation to do something by analogy with the glass or introduction examples?
    I still don't really understand the question. Are you asking whether it's possible in principle? If so, I'd have to say yes. Or are you actually asking us to come up with a situation? If so, I'd say, no, that would be too difficult.

    I can't see why you want to know this, or what you're going to do with the answer.

  8. #28
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Thank you. I searched through Fraze.it and didn't find any example.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    If so, I'd say, no, that would be too difficult.
    I can't understand why it's so difficult for you as a native speaker to come up with a situation.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I can't see why you want to know this, or what you're going to do with the answer.
    Because it's my blind spot. If I can't see the difference between under obligation/an obligation to do smth, I can't use it properly. There are not many things in English that are difficult to comprehend for me. I understand the general distinction you gave above, but I can't apply it because I can't see under/have obligation to do smth as a mass entity.
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  9. #29
    Alexey86 is offline Senior Member
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    I just wanted to clarify one thing: I have no difficulties with sentences like "I have responsibility to these people/I'm under obligation to these people." I take them to mean a general state of being responsible or obliged = being responsible/obliged in many ways. But I stumble over infinitive constructions following the uncountable forms because these constructions, to my ear, specify and instantiate these abstract mass nouns. I have responsibility and to do something clash in my mind because the first part implies "in many ways", while the second says "in one way".
    Last edited by Alexey86; 25-Sep-2020 at 13:23.
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  10. #30
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    Re: responsibility vs life vs time (countability)

    Okay, I understand much better now. Thank you for explaining.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    I stumble over infinitive constructions following the uncountable forms because these constructions, to my ear, specify and instantiate these abstract mass nouns. I have responsibility and to do something clash in my mind because the first part implies "in many ways", while the second says "in one way".
    Yes, I see exactly what you mean now. I think you're right. I have the same problem there, for the same reason you give.

    All I can say is that when you use the web to find examples of use, you're always going to find examples that don't make perfect sense, or that sound unnatural. This is why I always stress how important it is to find contexts that reveal rather than obscure, that simplify rather than complicate.

    My practical advice to you then is to ignore those confusing examples of responsibility to do something. As you say, it makes more sense to say a responsibility to do something, for the reason you give.

    Another complicating factor here is when nouns come as part of 'semi-fixed' preposition phrases, such as under obligation. In these cases, it is more likely that a speaker will use the uncountable noun even if he's thinking 'countably', as it were. This has more to do with lexis than with meaning, in my opinion. Sometimes we just say what sounds more natural for no other reason than just that. I don't think you need let this worry you. My practical advice to you is to follow the basic principles of meaning that we've discussed in this thread: say under an obligation if you're thinking of it "in one way" and under obligation if you're thinking "in many ways". And if you're stuck in between, use the uncountable version.

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