Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I came across this example on WordWeb while going through the meaning of the word 'avalanche'.

the program brought an avalanche of mail (Just like "a group of man men").

I'm quite sure it should be mails. Kindly confirm.

share|improve this question
2  
Not to be confused with an avalanche of males, which is correctly pluralized. –  Esoteric Screen Name Jul 2 at 12:10
    
@EsotericScreenName lol. I certainly got confused but with emails. :) I was just concerned about putting 'plural'. J.R. clarified it. –  Maulik V Jul 2 at 12:11
1  
The count noun for mail is letter. The count noun for email is email. So it could be an avalanche of emails or an avalanche of letters of an avalanche of email, but not an avalanche of mail. –  Peter Shor Jul 2 at 16:13

1 Answer 1

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Definitely not.

Mail is a uncountable noun, as in: "There is a lot of mail in that mailbag."

Therefore, it would be an avalanche of mail (but an avalanche of letters).

We would say, "Would you please take this mail down to the mailbox?" even if there were three pieces of mail to take.

share|improve this answer
3  
In this context either email or emails would be fine. But definitely not mails. –  Mark Pattison Jul 2 at 12:22
1  
@MarkPattison But I disagree using email in this context. Though email could be a mass noun, but when it follows an avalanche, it should be counted as a 'countable noun' i.e. emails. –  Maulik V Jul 2 at 12:55
4  
Maulik - I'm inclined to agree with @MarkP in this case. The word emails is sometimes used to mean email messages, so "an avalanche of emails" sounds okay to me, even though "an avalanche of mails" does not. That said, email can refer to everything in the inbox, not just individual messages, so "an avalanche of email" sounds okay as well. I don't think both words always function the same way. Of course, email is a much newer word than mail, so the dust probably hasn't fully settled on this issue yet. –  J.R. Jul 2 at 14:12
9  
@MaulikV Why should an avalanche of X require that X be a count noun? What is a literal avalanche but an avalanche of snow (mass noun). Either a mass noun or count noun is fine here; email can be used as either, but mail, even when referring to email, can only be a mass noun. –  WinnieNicklaus Jul 2 at 14:41
3  
@DavidRicherby: I not aware of anyone who refers to "an email" as "an electronic mail". But if they did then it would be OK for them to say "three electronic mails". If the etymology went "mail" (mass noun) -> "electronic mail" (mass noun) -> "email" (mass noun) -> "email" (both mass noun and count noun meaning "email message"), then there's no "electronic mail" (count noun). More immediately, since nobody calls it electronic mail there's not even really any "electronic mail" (mass noun) ;-) –  Steve Jessop Jul 2 at 15:24

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.