1

Laugh is the sound you make when you laugh, and it is also a noun: we can have a laugh, and we can have a few laughs. So why not be able to say you can hear this laugh? Does it seem wrong to say the following? Is there a reason for this?

  1. I like the sound of this laugh of the children?

  2. I like the sound of children's laugh

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    It's wrong. Laugh is a verb. To refer to a sound, you need a noun form of it, like laughter. – fixer1234 Feb 20 '17 at 7:25
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    But laugh is also a noun. We can have a laugh, we can have a few laughs, so why not be able to say you can hear this laugh or that I like the sound of this laugh of the children? – user221278 Feb 20 '17 at 7:32
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    When laugh is used as a noun, it usually has an article in front of it, and laugh is singular.. You could say, "I like the sound of a child's laugh". Children laugh, but that's a verb. With the plural possessive "children's", you can't use the singular "laugh", and that is also missing the article. In your sentence, you could use, "I like the sound of children's laughter" or you could also say "I like the sound of children laughing" (verb in this case). – fixer1234 Feb 20 '17 at 8:08
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    You can hear a laugh or you can hear laughter. – Hot Licks Feb 20 '17 at 12:57
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    "Can we hear laugh?" Is grammatically wrong. It should be either "Can we hear laughter?" Or can we hear a laugh?". The first one is preferred, but it depends on the context. – Mitch Feb 20 '17 at 13:11
2

Yes, you can hear a laugh.

Your examples sound wrong, however. I think the word laughter would be a better choice there. The first one also has issues with how you're using this.

Why doesn't laugh sound right in your examples? Probably because one definition of laugh is:

a person's characteristic manner of laughing
oed.com

Children refers to more than one child, so laugh (under that definition) doesn't fit. This definition of laughter would be appropriate:

a manner of laughing.
oed.com


Hearing laughs

Like I said, it can be idiomatic to say you hear laughs. Or a singular laugh.

For example:

An Oak Hill community couple discovered a thief in their home Saturday after a man told a joke and heard a laugh upstairs.
WTF Journal

I have never heard laughs like that in my life.
The Gingerbread Lady: A New Play

In addition, these two sentences are equivalent in meaning, and both are grammatical:

  • I like her laugh.
  • I like the sound of her laugh.

Note that your title (Can we hear laugh?) is not grammatical because it requires an article (Can we hear a laugh? is grammatical).


"Having a laugh"

It's also important to realize that this expression is not entirely literal:

to laugh; to have a good time, enjoy oneself; (later also) to joke, to joke around.
oed.com

So you can also say you "heard someone having a laugh", but this is different than just hearing a laugh.

1

Laugh can be used as a noun, but in that form, it's usage needs to be defined by an applicable form of grammatical structure such as use of an article, like you used in your preface (a laugh).

Laugh can be used as a singular or plural with the right construction, but your sentence examples don't achieve internal agreement, especially your original example that is now example #2.

Your new example #1, I like the sound of this laugh of the children, is very awkward, but it could be interpreted in a way that is technically correct, although the meaning would be different from what I think you intend.

For example, if you had a group of children who all had a similar distinctive laugh and you liked the sound of it, that sentence might be appropriate; "this laugh" would refer to a singular type of laugh shared by all of those children. But that's the only way that sentence would be correct.

There is no way that example #2, I like the sound of children's laugh, can be correct. In that construction, laugh has no meaning or usage that is consistent with plural possessive "children's" and the absence of a defining element like an article.

If you were to add "the" — I like the sound of the children's laugh — you could interpret it in the same odd way as the previous hypothetical example (and that would be a less awkward way to do it). But that's not the meaning you're trying to convey.

So how can you integrate laugh and children into a sentence with the kind of meaning you describe in the question?

You could say, I like the sound of a child's laugh (note the article and singular use). That's internally consistent and conveys the concept.

If you want to use the plural children, you can't use laugh, at least not in a sentence construction similar to your suggestion that I can think of, because in that context, laugh would be singular. Children laugh, but that's the verb form.

In your sentence, you could use, I like the sound of children's laughter or you could also say I like the sound of children laughing (verb in this case).

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    I think more precisely it is that laugh as a noun is a sort of singulative: it refers to a single, specific instance of laughing, as opposed to the concept of laughing in general. It doesn't have to have an article, but like any other count noun it does need to be determined (by articles, demonstratives, or other determinatives). You can use it with a plural possessor, but you need a semantic context for it, e.g., “Anna and Lea both sneered, gave a short, derisive laugh and then turned away. The girls’ laugh stayed in Mickey’s mind all the way home”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 20 '17 at 9:00
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    @JanusBahsJacquet, you're obviously right. I'm not an English major, so the applicable rules are not my area (the reason I originally posted a comment instead of an answer). I made a meager attempt to explain why as far as I could take it. If you can beef up the answer, you're welcome to edit it, or post another answer that gets deeper into the explanation. I welcome the learning experience. BTW, are you saying that the singular nature refers to the "frequency" of the event rather than the number of people doing it? – fixer1234 Feb 20 '17 at 9:07
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    @JanusBahsJacquet, also, your plural examples contain an article (a...laugh, the...laugh). Anna and Lea's laugh sort of applies to each, and "the girls' laugh" applies to one collection of girls (like the audience's laugh refers to the aggregate audience, which is one entity), so to me, those examples seem singular. But I'm out of my league at this point. – fixer1234 Feb 20 '17 at 9:21
  • The laugh is singular; the possessor is plural. Even a plural possessor can be seen as an aggregate unit, but it usually remains grammatically plural. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 20 '17 at 9:31
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    If you want to include any of the material in my comments, please feel free to do so on this occasion. I think that your answer is a good start to an analysis, and that a full answer is probably PhD material (and hence probably beyond our capabilities on the ELU forum). – Edwin Ashworth Feb 20 '17 at 11:07

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