Ever since I’ve lost access to write on my breaks at work, this particular part of my blog has truly suffered…. Here’s a promise to get back on track.
Today’s usage is one that I’m rather fond of because it was the first linguistic idea that really opened my eyes to the complexity and art of language. I was already bilingual at the time (English and Portuguese), so I was quite familiar with language in general, but language was still just a tool to me. This concept was like opening the crayon box and discovering that there are other colors besides black. Nothing big, but it was the first of many steps into language that showed me what a miracle it is that we can even communicate at all.
Most people have probably never even heard of Count Nouns or, if they have, put much thought into it, but everyone knows and uses count nouns daily. Nouns can be divided into many different types: proper, person, place, thing, and so on. Two of those types are count and non-count.
A count noun is a noun that can be counted. Non-count nouns cannot be counted. For example, computer is a count noun because you can have one computer, two computers, three computers, and so on. Furniture on the other hand is not: one furniture, two furnitures, three furnitures. It just doesn’t make sense.
That’s logical enough, right? Well, the thing that is so amazing is that we all readily understand what is and is not countable just because we do. We pull that information from context, habit, and instinct, and we do it without really thinking about it. Want proof? Identify the following terms as countable or non-countable:
I imagine you did quite well. Funny thing, though is that most of you probably recognized that countability relies heavily on context. Let’s take love as an example. Love is typically non-count; however, when put in the context of love meaning a person, it is a count noun. Same with faith when faith describes multiple belief systems, but you simply cannot have two faiths in God. You just can’t. And all of you would recognize that usage if you heard it in a sentence simply because you do.
There are other interesting things about count nouns such as the fact that only count nouns take the “s” ending to make it plural. Perhaps the most interesting to me is that we do count non-count nouns by adding a countable noun to it. For example, instead of saying “I have two furnitures,” we say, “I have two types/pieces/sets of furniture.” The words type, piece, and set are all nouns, and they are countable. By adding the countable noun to the non-count furniture, we can count it. And you do that without even thinking about it.
And that was what started my journey into my expanded box of crayons.