10

Recently, a proofreader suggested an edit for my story:

a laughter laugh escaped my throat.

The New Oxford American Dictionary suggests:

laughter
noun
[mass noun]

the action or sound of laughing:
he roared with laughter

and

laugh
noun

1 an act of laughing:
she gave a loud, silly laugh

Following the definitions it would seem as if the correction goes in the opposite side here. What's the difference in usage between the nouns laugh and laughter? Are there some subtle differences in connotations, associations, undertones, usage patterns I failed to notice?

13

Ditto Matt, but maybe it will help if I say it a slightly different way.

"Laughter" is a mass noun, referring to the concept of laughing in general. "Laugh" is a countable noun. A person could let out one laugh or two laughs, but he couldn't make one laughter. On the other hand you could say, "Laughter is not appropriate at a funeral." You are referring to the idea in general. You wouldn't say, "Laugh is not appropriate at a funeral." You might say, "A laugh is not appropriate", though that would be awkward, because you really are talking about the general idea.

It's like the difference between "humanity" (in the sense of the sum total of all human beings) versus "person". You could say, "Humanity is becoming too dependent on technology", meaning all people, in general. Or you could say, "This person is becoming too dependent on technology", meaning one particular person. You wouldn't say, "A humanity is ..." doing whatever, as that would imply that there are other "humanities" out there somewhere.

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14

The rule here is that the article a should not be used with uncountable mass nouns such as laughter, whereas it is OK to use it with the ordinary noun laugh.

Hence you can either say:

Laughter escaped my throat

A laugh escaped my throat

A laugh differs from laughter in that it refers to a single "Ha" (example), whereas laughter would normally be a longer series of laughs (example).

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  • The first video material is unavailable ;). – belford Nov 11 '16 at 0:56

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