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I am a native English speaker and have recently started working at an engineering firm in Eastern Europe as an environmental scientist. One of my roles within the company is to teach English to staff and I recently noticed that many of the company's employees use the noun "works", for example: "we will carry out engineering works".

I am qualified to teach English as a foreign language (CELTA) and I have always been taught that "work" is an uncountable noun, similar to water, i.e. we don't say "I have a lot of works." in the same way that we don't say "I have a lot of waters." The noun "work" is also listed as an uncountable noun in dictionaries.

In understood that the only exception was when referring to a factory or similar, e.g. a steel factory can be called a steelworks.

I told the staff about this mistake during my English lessons, but one of them came to me today and pointed out that in the FIDIC (an engineering institute) guidebook "Conditions of Contract for Construction", work is used as a countable noun with considerable frequency. I looked at the contents page and saw several examples: for example, "Commencement of Works", "Taking Over of Parts of the Works", etc. At the same time, I can also see that work has been used as an uncountable noun in the book, for example, "Resumption of Work", "Suspension of Work", etc.

As far as I'm concerned, this appears to be a mistake, but maybe I'm wrong? As a scientist, I'm not overly familiar with engineering terms - maybe that's the problem?

Can anyone help me with this at all? When can work be used as a countable noun?
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I don't know about other contexts but in the construction industry 'works' is common. I have worked in the industry in various guises for nearly ten years and it is used in certain circumstances, even if the 'works' are singular. Further examples for you:

Clerk of Works (industry standard job title)
Groundworks (type of construction activity - yes, basically digging holes!)
Schedule of Works (the plan for the overall project)

Looking in my Oxford Concise dictionary comes up with the confirmation that Works can mean 'operations of building or repair' so it does seem to be construction specific.
Thanks Nona,

That was very usefulEmotion: smile
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Yes, I am a Chinese, a civil engineer. It's same issue what I met. So, I think in engineering workplace, Works maybe mean a lot of different work. Work is abstract.
Hi guys,

These all seem like valid points. There are certainly some specialized uses of the plural form. eg the works of a clock or the phrase something is in the works. We can speak of ten works of art.

In the construction trade, you can use the terms as noted, eg Clerk of Works, the Schedule of Works. These terms seem more like titles to me. I wouldn't think you can speak of a Schedule of Ten Works. So, it doesn't seem to me like a truly countable noun, if you can't count it.

Best wishes, Clive
Hi there, I have another question on countable/uncountable nouns. Do you know why people say Have a good dreams? I mean why do they use 'a' with plural 'dreams'?
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When do people say that? Should be 'a good dream' or just 'good dreams'.
i generally teach my more advanced students that work can be both countable and uncountable. uncountable in the general sense, but countable in the sense of individual items of work. this is especially true in the arts where we commonly hear people refering to, several works by beethoven for instance.
Thank you so much for sharing your information about your method to teach and clearify your advanced students. I suspected it behaves like that, but incapable to explain it clearer to my students. I would like to read some more comments out on how to explain unusual behaviour of words in English, because I am a spanish English teacher...

Best regards with much gratitude.
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