count noun

In linguistics, a count noun (also countable noun) is a noun which can be modified by a numeral and occur in both singular and plural form, as well as co-occurring with quantificational determiners like every, each, several, most, etc. A mass noun has none of these properties. It can't be modified by a numeral, occur in singular/plural or co-occur with the relevant kind of determiner. Below we see examples of all these properties for the count noun chair and the mass noun furniture. As always in discussion of syntax, a star "*" in front of a sentence indicates that the sentence is ill-formed.
We saw seven chairs in the room.
*We saw seven furniture[s] in the room.
  • Occurrence in plural/singular.
There is a chair in the room.
There are chairs in the room.
*There is a furniture in the room.
*There are furnitures in the room.
Every chair is man made.
There are several chairs in the room.
*Every furniture is man made.
*There are several furnitures in the room.


Some determiners can be used with both mass and count nouns, including "some", "a lot (of)", "no".

A common misunderstanding concerning the mass/count distinction is that it is based on the type of thing the different nouns refer to. Mass nouns are thought to refer to things (or substances) that can't be counted, while count nouns are supposed to refer to ones that can. That this can't be right is seen with our examples above, using chair (count) and furniture (mass). If we have seven chairs in a room, they can be described both as "chairs" and as "furniture". The mass/count distinction must therefore pertain to the expressions themselves ("chair" vs. "furniture") and not to the things they refer to. One may say that the noun "furniture" does not explicitly specify that it refers to individuals, while the noun "chair" does. Some substances (or abstract phenomena like fun and hope) have properties which make it difficult to refer to them with a count noun. For example, it is difficult to think about air as individuated chunks (unless we are discussing air at a molecular level). Consequently, we tend to refer to air with the mass noun "air". To be used as a count noun, it must be possible to think of the stuff being named as discrete individuals. In contrast, mass nouns can refer to just about anything, including individuals. Further, if we specify the unit of measurement, we can refer to even such substances as count, as in "two litres of wine". But the mass/count distinction remains a grammatical classification of expressions and not the sort of thing they refer to.

Following the work of logicians like Godehard Link and Manfred Krifka, we know that the mass/count distinction can be given a precise mathematical definition in terms of notions like cumulativity and quantization.

Some languages treat all nouns as basically mass, and need to make use of a noun classifier to add numerals and other quantifiers. To take an example from Mandarin Chinese, which marks count(ed) nouns with a noun classifier:
那人吃完了 (nà rén chī wán le)
can equally well mean "That person has eaten" or "Those people have eaten" - you're not counting them, so you don't need a classifier, and Mandarin doesn't distinguish singular vs. plural
那位人吃完了 (nà wèi rén chī wán le) means "That (one) person has eaten"
那三位人吃完了(nà sān wèi rén chī wán le) means "Those three people have eaten"


A classifier, therefore, implies that the object(s) referred to are countable in the sense that the speaker intends them to be enumerated, rather than considered as a unit (regardless of quantity).

On the other hand, words such as "milk" or "rice" are not count nouns, but they can be counted with an appropriate unit of measure (e.g. "glasses of milk" or "spoonfuls of rice"). This leads to another example from Mandarin to illustrate some further points about count nouns:
  • 她有七本书在桌子上 (tā yŏu qī bĕn shū zài zhuōzi shàng) - "She has seven books on the table."
  • 他写完七本书 (tā xiĕ wán qī bĕn shū) - "She has written seven books"
In both cases, the word "book" is a count noun, and in Mandarin take the classifier 本 (bĕn).

This use of a classifier is similar to, but not identical with, the use of units of measure to count groups of objects in English. For example, in "three shelves of books", "shelves" is used as a unit of measurement, and books is indeed a mass noun, since the speaker is not counting individual books - she is counting shelves of books. By contrast, in the sentence "At 10 books per shelf, you have 30 books," both instances of "books" are an example of a count noun, and require a "measure word" in Chinese (or, as linguists sometimes call it, a "noun classifier", of which measure words are one type).

Different languages may treat "measured nouns" differently from "count nouns"; some, like Mandarin, will require a classifier before the unit of measure, while others may not require them at all.
三杯杯子面 (sān bēi bēizi miàn) - "Three [classifier] cups (of) noodles"
三块面 (sān kuài miàn) "Three [classifier] noodles".
Notice that the classifier changes as the unit being counted changes.

See also

Linguistics is the scientific study of language, which can be theoretical or applied. Someone who engages in this study is called a linguist.
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numeral system (or system of numeration) is a framework where a set of numbers are represented by numerals in a consistent manner. It can be seen as the context that allows the numeral "11" to be interpreted as the binary numeral for three
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grammatical number is grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions (such as "one" or "more than one").[1]
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Plural is a grammatical number, typically referring to more than one of the referent in the real world.

In the English language, singular and plural are the only grammatical numbers.

In English, nouns, pronouns, and demonstratives inflect for plurality.
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  • Determiner (function): (grammar) a function in phrase structure
  • Determiner (class): (grammar) a class of words (also determinative)

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mass noun (also uncountable noun or non-count noun) is a common noun that presents entities as an unbounded mass. Given that different languages have different grammatical resources, the actual test for which nouns are mass nouns may vary from language to language.
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numeral system (or system of numeration) is a framework where a set of numbers are represented by numerals in a consistent manner. It can be seen as the context that allows the numeral "11" to be interpreted as the binary numeral for three
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Co-occurrence can either mean concurrence / coincidence or, in a more specific sense, the above-chance frequent occurrence of two terms from a text corpus alongside each other in a certain order.
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reference is a relation between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. Such relations may occur in a variety of domains, including linguistics, logic, computer science, art, and scholarship.
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mass noun (also uncountable noun or non-count noun) is a common noun that presents entities as an unbounded mass. Given that different languages have different grammatical resources, the actual test for which nouns are mass nouns may vary from language to language.
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Measurement is the estimation of the magnitude of some attribute of an object, such as its length or weight, relative to a unit of measuremnt. Measurement usually involves using a measuring instrument, such as a ruler or scale, which is calibrated to compare the object to some
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Grammar is the study of the rules governing the use of a given natural language, and as such a field of linguistics. Traditionally, grammar included morphology and syntax, in modern linguistics commonly expanded by the subfields of phonetics, phonology, orthography, semantics, and
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Godehard Link is a professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of Munich.

External links

  • Godehard Link homepage (in German)

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In linguistic semantics, an expression X is said to have cumulative reference if and only if the following holds: If X is true of both of a and b, then it is also true of the combination of a and b.
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bounded/unbounded in time) and the mass/count distinction for nouns. The notion was first applied to linguistic semantics by the logician Manfred Krifka.

Formally, a quantization predicate QUA
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A classifier, in linguistics, is a word or morpheme used in some languages to classify a noun according to its meaning.

Classifier systems should not be confused with noun classes, which often categorize nouns in ways independent from meaning, such as according to morphology.
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numeral system (or system of numeration) is a framework where a set of numbers are represented by numerals in a consistent manner. It can be seen as the context that allows the numeral "11" to be interpreted as the binary numeral for three
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The term quantification has several meanings, general and specific. Primarily it covers all those acts which quantify observations and experiences by converting them into numbers through counting and measuring. It is thus the basis for mathematics and for science.
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This page contains Chinese text.
Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.

Mandarin
官話 Guānhuà
Spoken in: People's Republic of China 
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A classifier, in linguistics, is a word or morpheme used in some languages to classify a noun according to its meaning.

Classifier systems should not be confused with noun classes, which often categorize nouns in ways independent from meaning, such as according to morphology.
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Measure words, in linguistics, are words (or morphemes) that are used in combination with a numeral to indicate the count of nouns. Measure words often classify the noun they modify into some semantic class and consequently measure words are considered numeral classifiers
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mass noun (also uncountable noun or non-count noun) is a common noun that presents entities as an unbounded mass. Given that different languages have different grammatical resources, the actual test for which nouns are mass nouns may vary from language to language.
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collective noun is a word used to define a group of objects, where "objects" can be people, animals, inanimate things, concepts, or other things. For example, in the phrase "a pride of lions", pride is a collective noun.
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grammatical number is grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions (such as "one" or "more than one").[1]
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