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Hi,

I think I have asked some questions along this line in the past but since the understanding of the matter has eluded me still, I wish to ask this question. Please take a look at my alternate versions and tell me why my versions are less preferable to those that are not mine.

When choosing a computer, consider these three factors: speed, memory and cost. -- For this sentence, only thing that causes me trouble is the word 'cost'. I looked up the word in a dictionary and there, it seems to give several definitions with none indicating it as an uncountable or variable noun. I think it is used based on what it represents, not what is shown in a dictionary. I think some words can be used in this way but certainly not all words in the English language. Are there some guiding points on this?

My version (with just one modification/change): When choosing a computer, consider these three factors: speed, memory and costs.

More critical to the learning environment than approach, method, or content are ... -- Here, the two words 'approach' and 'method' are troubling to me. Why not?

My version: More critical to the learning environment than approaches, methods, or content are ...

Is there any guideline to this usage of a certain word for its functional meaning based on what it represents to our perception of meaning? (I don't know if I stated what I feel correctly.)
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Hi Believer,

I share your dilemma, if not your knowledge of the terminology. I'd call the difference "stuff" vs "things." Obviously the three nouns you've selected can function both ways. What's needed are guidelines which abstract the difference and give it some structure.

To my ear, both your examples sound okay with singulars or with plurals. What sounds objectionable is mixing them. Let me think some more about the difference in meaning (if any.)

My sense is that the singular suggests the broader issue of cost/method/approach while the plural suggests a list of specifics, but I surely don't know the term for this dichotomy.

Do dictionaries typically designate nouns as "countable" or "variable"?

Regards, - A.
cost here = price. A computer only has one price.
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Nona The Britcost here = price. A computer only has one price.
Hi,

There could be compatibility issues with existing peripherals and software that could entail additional expenditure - training issues, support issues, reliability, warantee, etc.

Regards, - A.
Hi, Avangi. Thank you.

When you say that you object to mixing them, what exactly do you mean?

Would you be more specific? Would you resent my mixing of singular and plural form of the words here? I think you would.

More critical to the learning environment than 1) approaches, 2) methods, or 3) content are ...

But I seem to see many instances where this kind of mixing is done.

I think an English learner's dictionary normally, if not always has notations that indicate whether a noun is a countable, variable, mass and other designated terms, but I think dictionaries native speakers use in their homelands don't necessary have those notations to note those distinctions.

Would you say that not all nouns can be used both ways (please see your use of these words)? Would you say only certain nouns like the words in the example sentence -- namely 'approach', 'method' and 'content' -- can be used both ways? How can I learn to distinguish which ones are OK to use and which ones are not? Learn by getting more exposure to the likes of them?
Hi Believer,

I want to help you sort this out if I can. Right now the old brain is out of focus and I need some sleep. I can't help thinking that somebody has a name for this issue and has carefully laid it all out. In my present condition, if you were to give me a list of nouns, I could say, "Yes, that's one of them," or "No, that's a different thing altogether." That's about it. (I do think that "content" is in a different category from "approach[es]" and "method" in that the plural form can be either countable or not. Maybe I'm wrong.) It's as frustrating as trying to explain why "the police" always takes a plural verb. Perhaps as Clive or Phillip recently said on another subject, "That's just the way it is."

I'll get back to you. In the meantime, perhaps you could have another try at expressing this one:

"Is there any guideline to this usage of a certain word for its functional meaning based on what it represents to our perception of meaning? (I don't know if I stated what I feel correctly.)"

Perhaps while I'm sleeping someone will come to our rescue.

Best wishes, - A.
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Hi, Believer,

I'm still at the point where I have to take these nouns on a case-by-case basis. Let's talk about one of my favorite subjects, food (or foods.)

Category one (I'm making this up): nuts, cherries, berries, peas, beans, etc. (small things) -

You can make a pecan pie or a cherry pie (adjective). You can talk about a single pea, but who would? I just ate a pea. As nouns, these usually appear in the plural.

Category two: apples, melons, oranges, etc.

You can make orange marmelade or apple cider (adjective.) You can eat three apples or one. You can eat a slice of apple/melon/orange (stuff.)

Category three: beef, pork, poultry, etc.

We're having beef for dinner. Plural would be rare. There are only two good beefs: Angus and longhorn.

Category four: rice

You can look at a grain of rice, but it's usually stuff. Never heard the plural. (Grains are good for you.)

Category five: steak, pie, turkey, cake, potato

This is where most of our previous discussion falls. We're having steak and potato. We're having steaks and potatoes. More important to/for your diet than cake, pie, steak and potato are fruits and vegetables. You can eat a whole steak or a whole pie. You can buy two cakes and ten pounds of potatoes. You can take a slice of turkey and a helping of mashed potato. (Of course I've heard of "steak and potatoes" but you'd expect individual boiled or baked potatoes.)

What my ear objects to is the mixing of singulars and plurals within a single list, where all items belong to the same category. I can't give you a good answer as to why your plurals in your original example were "less preferred." I think parallel construction and consistency are good, but your issue seemed to be "why is singular preferred in this case?"

Regards, - A.
Thank you, Avangi.

So I think what you seem to alluding to me is that native speakers like you (I am sure you are one of them) seem to divide a noun into categories based on practical usage -- the usage that serves a practical purpose in an environment where English is spoken naturally -- although some people would make up a different number of categories than yours and not necessarily into categories that are set up or created to help a learner learn English in a systematic way.

My guess is that the distinguishing terms like a countable noun, an uncountable noun, a mass noun, and others are set up/created for the purpose of serving the needs of English learners in a non-English speaking environment.

Thank you for your explanation and your elaboration on those categories. I would say your effort is one of the finest responses I have gotten for a long time and matches in quality to that of those few, more firmly established teachers of these forums.
My guess is that the distinguishing terms like a countable noun, an uncountable noun, a mass noun, and others are set up/created for the purpose of serving the needs of English learners in a non-English speaking environment.
Exactly. Native speakers never give a millisecond's thought to whether a noun is countable or not. (A fish never wonders how it could possibly live in water, although the question may fascinate humans, because they can't do the same. Emotion: smile )

CJ
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