I believe this is simple, yet crucial and time-worthy to know amongst ELLs.

As a traveler, I've experienced different culture/cultures across the world.

First off, culture is an uncountable noun.

Every time I'm going to use this word "culture", I've always been unsure whether it should be just "culture" (singular), or "cultures" (plural).

Come to think of it, you cannot count "culture", and grammar books say it too.

So, in the sentence above, can you say different culture specifically?

Confusion and annoyance:

  • Different fruit/fruits?
  • Different vegetable/vegetables

Please note that I've included "different" before a noun, which should usually be followed by a plural noun (for example "different books", "different computers").

  • 3
    Many nouns are both countable and uncountable, depending on the context – culture would be one of them. – J.R. Nov 13 at 23:46
up vote 19 down vote accepted

Your grammar book is, unfortunately, incorrect. Culture is both countable and uncountable, depending on which definition you mean:

culture (n):

  1. [mass noun] The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively
  2. [count noun] The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

Examples:

Different countries have different cultures.

Everyone loves living in that city, but they all complain about the lack of culture.

It is possible to talk about "different culture" in the abstract sense of the word:

Everyone says the East Coast of the United States has a very different culture from the West Coast.

Various other nouns (like fruit) also have the quality of being uncountable in the abstract, while countable in the concrete.

My doctor says I should eat more fruit every day.

My favorite fruits are kiwi, mango, and guava.

Vegetable is slightly different, since the singular can be an adjective

The entire structure seems to be covered in a dense layer of vegetable matter.

The plural is always a noun referring to particular types of vegetables:

Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale are different vegetables that nevertheless all belong to same species.

  • Thx very much. As I've gone over this answer, is it correct to say that the difference between uncountable noun and countable noun is the "concrete or abstract" sense of them? Will it be a good foundation when thinking which one to use in a sentence? Or should I say, absolutely I should... – John Arvin Nov 14 at 19:02
  • 1
    @JohnArvin I don't know if it's that simple. Is "fruit" abstract or concrete? It is a thing, even when talking about it in a general way. And then you have the various uncountable things like water or juice, both of which are measured by quantity, not number. Or cake as in "I love cake" vs. "I'd love a cake" – Andrew Nov 14 at 20:05

Culture, in this context, is not an uncountable noun. "I've experienced different culture" is not correct, although you could say something like "he comes from a different culture."

Similarly, you cannot use fruit/vegetable like that:

  • Five different vegetables were served with dinner. (Note that this almost always means five different types of vegetables: carrots, spinach, etc.)
  • I would have preferred a different vegetable than the one I was served.

Fruit is a little weird, since you generally say "I ate fruit for breakfast," (it's uncountable in this usage), but you could not say "I ate vegetable" -- it's always either "I ate a vegetable" or "I ate vegetables."

But fruit would still be used as above, when modified by different:

  • Five different fruits were served at breakfast (i.e., five different types of fruit).
  • I would have preferred to eat a different fruit than the durian I was served.
  • It's not incorrect, just less common. If you saw an art gallery in Paris, jazz in New Orleans and opera in Fiji, you'd have experienced different culture across the world. – Pete Kirkham Nov 14 at 17:53

When traveling, I hesitate to identify one distinct culture. I err on the side of caution with diverse groups and broadly refer to "cultures."

Here is a good example from Louisiana Folklife:

"A complex blend of French, Spanish, German, African, Irish, and Native American influences created a unique regional culture. Yet, when one looks closer, one becomes aware of local variations: in spite of its deep French roots, South Louisiana is not a monolithic, homogeneous Francophonic culture."

Therefore after visiting, you may have experienced a variety of cultures.

Good luck, G.

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