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Hi,

As far as I remember, someone has indicated in his response that an abstract noun does not usually take a determiner like "the" unless the author does it for stylistic reason, but I think even (?) abstract nouns can take on, aside from being stylistic, the determiner "the" under a right context. Can any one give me some examples where they can take on "thes"?
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Sure. The beauty of the Aphrodite of Melos is exquisite.
Mr. M.

Lately I think I am seeing more of what looks be uncountable nouns followed by what looks to be retrictive clauses and precede by the indefinite article "a." Is that right?

How about this? IS THIS RIGHT?

A beauty of the Princess of Bigman's land is exquisite.

Can an uncountable which is followed by a restrictive clause be modified with the indefinte article "a" and not the usual definite article "the"?
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Well, your example (A beauty of the Princess of Bigman's land is exquisite) makes no sense to me. Is that your creation, or did you find it somewhere? It contains no restrictive clause.

In any case, I see no problem with constructing a sentence with an indefinitely-articled uncountable noun-- the trouble is, that action automatically turns it into its countable form: A beauty of the new Nissan is its small turning radius. (With a restrictive clause: A beauty of the new Nissan that I test-drove yesterday is its small turning radius.)

Does that help?
Thank you, Mr. M.

It helped me a lot.

Would you say the underlined part is a restrictive phrase or a modifying phrase. If it is either one, then would you kindly tell me what is the difference between a modifying phrase and a restrictive phrase?

A beauty of the Princess of Bigman's land

The beauty of a woman

Also, if I recall it correctly, the action of putting the indefinite article "a" in front of uncountables are OK?? but the problem is, as you seem to have said, that it turns the uncounble nouns into sort of countable nouns. OK. Are there anything we should be aware of when we decide to take that road of turning uncountable nouns into sort of countable nouns?

Thank you.
There is a difference between a clause (the term you used previously) and a phrase ('of the Princess of Bigman's land').
anything we should be aware of when we decide to take that road of turning uncountable nouns into sort of countable nouns?
Only be aware that you are creating one of several sorts of the uncountable, I suppose.
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Before I give you more detailed explanation I have to tell you that in dictionaries you can frequently find the type of the word: countable, uncountable, mass, abstract… However what is more important is to understand that the context is equally important. You can turn many words into abstract if you want to express an idea, quality or experience, and you can as well make from a uncountable word a countable one if you want to speak about one particular appearance… So before you decide what is the type of the word you have to know

  • what is the most frequent context in which the word is found
  • what are the contexts you can use the word
  • whether and how each context changes the meaning of the word


  • which context is maybe awkward for the particular word


  • Once you know the context you can decide about the article attached. So here you have all contexts that one word can be found in. Do not forget that it is possible that you can change the context even when your dictionary says that a word is, for example, strictly countable.

    A ball can mean one instance of ball, a more or less round gadget of different materials for playing games, but ball can mean the experience of playing games with a ball.

    • A ball is usually round. - one ball
    • Ball, however I've loved it, is what hurts my knees. - the experience of playing different games with a ball


    • However, this is the advanced level of understanding and for some time you should be very strict and use words how they are given in the dictionary. But, in order to truly understand some exceptions in literature you have to have the following view better.

      The possible contexts of a word

      count nouns one ball-two balls-some balls

      • they have plural
      • in singular you have to use a/an or the
      • in plural you use the to define a particular instance, and without the to define a type


      • uncount nouns homework-fun-knowledge-privacy-furniture

        • they have singular but it is used, by the rule, without a/an
        • they do not have plural
        • you do not count them using one, two... but you can measure them using some, a piece of…


        • mass nouns coffee-beer-cheese

          • in singular they can mean a substance and in that case they are uncount so you do not use a but if you use the you mean a particular kind of that substance
          • in singular you can use a but in that case you talk about a regular portion or a type, a is actually a substitute for one (I want a coffee = I want one coffee = I want one cup of coffee)
          • in plural they mean several regular portions or types (several different cheeses = several different type of cheeses, two coffees = two cups of coffee)


          • singular nouns sun-strain-past-future

            • they are always singular and they always need a determiner (the sun, a strain, the past)
            • some normal nouns may have a special meaning when they are used as a singular noun (a note of urgency = a tone of haste)


            • plural nouns glasses-spectacles-clothes-conditions

              • they have only plural and you do not usually count them, but there are exceptions (two goods is not common, two scissors is ok)
              • you can use only the for known occurrences, for other the rules are similar to an uncount noun, unless you can count them (a/one scissors but even then you better say some scissors, a pair of scissors)
              • some normal words may have a different meaning when used as a plural noun (conditions - the factors that affect something)


              • collective nouns army-crew-government

                • they behave as a count noun but they can use singular or plural verb form, which depends on how you observe a group - as one item or a collection of several items
                proper nouns names

                • they have the or do not have the based on the special rules or simply a custom
                compound nouns

                • they are the nouns made of several words
                • apart from that they can belong to any other group mentioned here
                • they have special rules of creating the plural


                • abstract nouns intelligence-joy-relief

                  • abstract nouns are usually uncountable and they behave as one
                  • if you count them or use plural, you are referring to a particular instance(s)


                  • We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them. (joys - the things that make us joyful)

                    concrete nouns the nouns that are referring to physical objects

                    • they can be in any group said above except abstract
                    As you can see the rules are strict, but there are exceptions. We say that uncountable nouns you cannot count, they do not use a and have no plural. However, if the word belongs to an abstract group expressing idea, feeling or experience, it may still be counted and have the plural when you mean about the particular occurrence(s). Not all abstract words are capable to switch to plural.

                    Some words can be observed as uncountable (hair) and behave as one, but if you use a they change the meaning. hair - strands growing on head or body, a hair - single strand growing on head or body (or found in a soupEmotion: smile) However, you can see that a is used to restrict the occurrence to certain physics dimension. Not all uncountable words are capable to use a and to be counted. If they do they almost without an exception change the meaning, though sometimes the change is not very serious.

                    water is uncountable so the rules says no plural, but then you deprive yourself from some important possible usages or understanding

                    waters -

                    • type(s) of mineral waters
                    • all rivers that flow into a large river or cover certain region
                    • drops
                    • place(s) to practice water sports
                    • the places covered with water on the Earth
                    • an area, realm (it can lead us to unknown waters)
                    • the water natural beauties like waterfall, cascades...
                    • a spa
                    • the water near the shore of region or country
                    • a type of water coming from many different sources - toxic waters


                    • a water -

                      • a river or lake or any closed area covered with water
                      • a small amount of water that was examined for purity
                      • a drop


                      • So uncountable water is very capable to switch to a countable case with, of course, change of the meaning. Thus, the entire previous detailed classification is frequently relative. (However, when you use words in their regular and natural and most common context you use the strict rules: furniture in my house, not furnitures in my house, unless you have all together Louis XV, Louis XVI and Louis XVII furniture in your house [furnitures - types of furniture] to show off around. The furnitures we have are: commercial use furniture, counter system furniture, job station furniture, retail counter furniture)

                        I hope you start getting the picture. However, before you go into this area more thoroughly, it is highly recommendable to follow the standard usage especially if you have kind of exam.

                        Now, back to your question.

                        The abstract nouns are usually regarded as uncountable, thus if you use the you mean of one particular occurrence.

                        That medicine is very good. The relief was immediate. (the relief: in my case, when I used it ...)

The most frequent case is that each word has many different meanings. Each meaning can belong to a completely different group of words. A good dictionary gives the classification not by the word, but by each meaning of the word.

Sometimes you have to guess the classification, which is normally not so difficult.

The rules given in many textbooks are based not on the general rules but on the frequent omissions. (advice is uncountable, homework as well; sometimes these rules are given only because other languages treat these words as countable)

It can be confusing because you are focused only how not to make errors instead to learn what is the true reason of using a, the or not using them. These rules are very simple and very logical, for example, you do not use a/an with abstract nouns because you usually do not count quality, experience, feelings…: one happiness, two happinesses(?) unless you really want to say something special about it. (For example: My children are my two happinesses. ( or just happiness ? ) )
Very comprehensive and well-considered presentation, Aperisic, thank you.

( I think you intend 'My children are my two happinesses'-- a fine example.)
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