Here are some examples from dictionaries where hope is used in the plural

people have hopes of increasing trade between the two regions (Collins Cobuild)

she has hopes of studying to be a nurse (LDOCE)

he secretly cherished hopes that George would marry his daughter (OALD)

His early hopes of freedom were now gone.

Hopes are high that a resolution to the conflict can be found.

Hopes of a peaceful end to the strike are now growing.

Hopes for the missing men are fading.

Here are also some dictionary examples in which hope is used as an uncountable noun, hence in the singular form:

Hope faded after wrecked remains of the ship were washed onto the shore.

Hope remains that survivors will be found.

 the treatment gave him renewed hope

 I didnʼt give up hope of being released.

I donʼt hold out much hope of finding a buyer.

I am wondering why ‘hope’ is sometimes used in the plural while otherwise in the singular. Or, is there any guideline as to when hope should be used as uncountable and when as countable in the plural? Could anyone help on this? Many thanks in advance!

2 Answers 2


The word "hope" can be used to refer to a couple of (similar, but slightly different) things:

"A hope", or "hopes", as a countable noun generally refers to one's wishes, dreams or specific aspirations for the future. Since these "hopes" are specific desires, this form is often used with attached descriptive clauses such as "hopes of <doing something>" or "hopes that <something> will happen", such as in your examples:

She has hopes of studying to be a nurse (LDOCE)

he secretly cherished hopes that George would marry his daughter (OALD)

"Hope" as an uncountable noun refers to a more general feeling of optimism or positive outlook for the future (and is used similarly to other emotions, like "joy" or "sadness"). This is more commonly used by itself without supporting phrases, such as in your examples:

Hope faded after wrecked remains of the ship were washed onto the shore.

The treatment gave him renewed hope.

Now, as you may notice, there are some cases where "hope" is used with qualifiers, and some cases where "hopes" is used by itself, etc, so these aren't unbreakable rules, just the usual practice.

Additionally, there are some set phrases that may use one or the other even though it seems like the other one might be more fitting, for example:

Hold out hope (of something occurring)

Give up hope (that something will occur)

These generally refer to one's general optimistic outlook (emotion) but specifically about a particular thing happening, so it's sorta a cross between the two above cases. In these set phrases, the uncountable "hope" is used even though it may be about a specific desire (so, for example, saying somebody should "give up hopes" would sound rather strange, and while "give up hopes of <something>" might actually technically be OK, it would be more common for somebody to say either "give up hope of <something>" (using the set phrase) or "give up <his/her/your/etc> hopes of <something>" (avoiding the similarity with the set phrase entirely) instead).

High hopes / hopes are high

This phrase is generally used to indicate somebody has a lot of "hope" (the general, uncountable kind), but the set phrase uses the word "hopes" anyway (and saying somebody has "high hope", would sound strange to most people).


No particular meaning is implied. This is a set phrase, and it is marked as such in "Collins Cobuild":

high/great hopes

phrase (!!!)

If you have high hopes or great hopes that something will happen, you are confident that it will happen.

I had high hopes that Derek Randall might play an important part. Britain's three-day event team has high hopes of winning the Olympic gold medal. He had no great hopes for the success of his undertaking.

[Also + of/for]

Set phrases just come to be a certain way over time. You just need to learn their "overall" meaning and simply parrot them.

That it makes no sense to try to analyze a phrase for literal meaning of its components is also evident in the case of phrasal verbs. As Oxford Dictionaries grammar section says, "A phrasal verb is a verb that is made up of a main verb together with an adverb or a preposition, or both. Typically, their meaning is not obvious from the meanings of the individual words themselves."

In the same way, analyzing this particular phrase (which seems to have emerged at the beginning of the 19th century) for countability or uncountability makes no sense. It just is what it is.

  • 1
    The OP's examples of countable hope being used include usages that aren't set phrases. While phrases such as high hopes or hopes and dreams require a plural, it can also be used outside of them. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 13:16

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