I read somewhere (can't remember where, sorry) that depending on context, the plural of waste could either be waste or wastes. In what context would one use wastes? For some reason, I always use waste, both for singular and plural.

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    Waste, as a noun, has multiple meanings. Which one are you concerned with? Depending on the meaning, waste can be a countable or uncountable noun. – Juhasz Apr 9 '19 at 16:28
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    I can only think of one context in which you would even need a plural, which is in referring to areas of waste land (snowy wastes). – Kate Bunting Apr 9 '19 at 16:41
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    No, the plural of waste can NEVER be waste. It is always completely ungrammatical to attempt to say: "These waste are not the ones you are looking for." – tchrist Apr 9 '19 at 20:14

As tchrist notes in a comment, the plural of waste is never waste; there is no situation where these waste would be grammatical. Mass nouns (i.e. "non-count" or "uncountable" nouns) are always treated as singular.

Many non-count nouns, however, can be used as count nouns when referring to types, examples, or portions of it:

  • Most viral pneumonias don’t have specific treatment.
  • ­Inspired by the success of Continental cheeses… British cheesemakers are creating innovative new blues.
  • Roger Riordan… gives away around $1 million a year helping hundreds of needy people complete their educations.

It is not especially common to pluralize waste, but in context it would be well-understood whether referring to useless material to be discarded or to an extravagant misuse of a resource.

  • When a manager scurries out to argue a call, it seems like just another of baseball’s ritualistic wastes of time.
  • Others are perpetual sources of water pollution, slowly leaking acidic and otherwise toxic wastes into streams and groundwater supplies.

Additionally, wastes is usually plural when referring to empty and worthless land.

  • . He took with him the manuscript of The Prairie, which he would complete in a Parisian hotel – a far cry from the empty undulating wastes in which Natty first appears to the Bush family in gigantic, mythical proportions…

The noun waste can be countable or uncountable. In more general, commonly used, contexts, the plural form will also be waste. However, in more specific contexts, the plural form can also be wastes.

e.g. in reference to various types of wastes or a collection of wastes.

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