He writes a crystalline prose (source)

I find this countable usage of "prose" from the Oxford Dictionaries very unusual. I have never seen "prose" used countably. In contrast, several dictionaries list "prose" as a mass noun and all the examples I have seen in other dictionaries indicate that "prose" is a mass noun, e.g.:

She writes beautiful prose. (source)

A search on Google for "a beautiful prose" has only hundreds of hits and most, if not all, of them are false positives as "a beautiful prose writer/style". Can "prose" really be used uncountably? Is "a beautiful prose" idiomatic? Or is that a mistake in the Oxford Dictionaries?

  • 2
    No, it can't be counted. There's no "two proses" or "six proses". It's a non-count noun.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 17:47
  • @BillJ Thank you! I know some nouns are "uncountable or singular". Just so I am clear on this, "prose" isn't one of them right? Is it safe to assume it is a mistake to say "he writes a crystalline prose"?
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 17:50
  • 4
    A count noun by definition is one that can combine with the cardinal numbers, one, two, three etc. You may encounter "he writes a crystalline prose", but "a" is used there to mark the noun as indefinite, not to indicate a quantity of "one prose".
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 17:54

2 Answers 2


While uncountable nouns usually do not have plurals, they can sometimes follow an indefinite article. This could be when it is desired to qualify or limit the noun’s meaning. A crystalline prose, a leaden prose, a sparkling and lively prose. Macmillan Dictionaries, the source of your second definition of 'prose', has an article: Can the indefinite article be used with uncountable nouns?

  • 3
    Yes, and examples like "He wastes a great deal of time" / "Jill has a good knowledge of Greek" / "I have a high regard for them". And a few others.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 19:07
  • 1
    @BillJ I think your last 2 examples are good, but not your first: "a great deal of" is a quantifier, like "a lot of".
    – Rosie F
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 6:30
  • 1
    @RosieF "A great deal of" is not a quantifier, not a constituent. The quantifier is the non-count quantificational noun "deal" which has the PP "of time" as its complement. "Deal" selects only singular obliques, in this case "time". The same applies to "lot", except that it is number-transparent in that it selects both singular obliques ("A lot of work was done") and plurals ("A lot of errors were made").
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 8:04

If I remember correctly from way back when I was learning Latin at school, "a prose" (with the indefinite article) was the technical term for "a passage that you were required to translate into the other language" (i.e. from English to Latin, or Latin to English).

That is what https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/prose #1.1 means.

I suspect this was only used for classical languages (Latin and Greek) where learning the classical rules for writing poetry, as distinct from prose, was a major sub-topic of the course - unlike in most modern language courses, which don't pay any special attention to poetry.

It wasn't normally used in the plural, but I suppose you could have said something like "for your homework, translate these three proses".

  • We had "a prose" at Alleyn's when I was there. Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 21:37

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