I understand that certain nouns are both uncountable and countable at the same time.

Some of these nouns have different meanings in different form so choosing which form to use is relatively easy.

However, what if the countable and uncountable forms are actually quite similar in their respective meaning(s)? Or the difference may be so subtle that I can't meaningfully distinguish the two? How could I pick the correct one?

E.g. (the examples below may not be perfect and better examples are always welcome!:D)

(1) The programmer is working hard to enhance the functionality/ functionalities of the software.

(Cambridge dictionary: functionality (C or U) means the tasks that a software is able to do)

(2) The quality of this report, including its appendix and abstract, is/are disappointing.

(Cambridge dictionary: quality (C or U) means how good or bad something is)

(3) I dont know what my personality is/are. Sometimes I am warm and nice, sometimes I am arrogant and harsh.

(Cambridge dictionary: personality (C or U) means the type of person you are)

To clarify my question, I understand that a noun can have a number of meanings so this problem can be easily avoided by resorting to its other meanings (functionalities can be taken to mean a range of functions, but even functionality could mean the same thing, so let's focus on this meaning). However, picking a different meaning would effectively circumvent, instead of directly resolving, my dilemma.


3 Answers 3


Part of your confusion seems to be that you mistake uncountable with plural. Both "quality" and "personality" are singular, whether they are countable or uncountable.

That aside, the difference between using the countable and uncountable variations of a noun relates to the fundamental way we decide whether something is countable or uncountable -- which is to say, can you count it? The general concept of "quality" can not be counted, because it exists only in the abstract.

This fabric is not of good quality.

But we can count specific examples that demonstrate some measure of quality:

We admire her good qualities, but we enjoy her bad qualities even more.

To put this another way: Use the countable version of the noun when citing real-world and/or measurable examples of the noun. Use the uncountable version when talking about the abstract or general concept of that noun.

To take your first example, is the programmer enhancing the overall functionality of the software? Or is she working on specific sections, each of which has a useful function? Either is fine; you just need to decide what you want to say.


As you say, the meanings are fairly similar, so you need to choose the correct one you wish to convey.

For the first example, enhancing the functionality of a piece of software would mean enhancing how well it is able to be used overall; enhancing the functionalities would mean enhancing the individual things it is able to do. For example, you might have a piece of software whose functionalities include converting files to different formats, compressing data and opening files.

For the second example the quality of a report would be how good it is overall. The qualities of a report would be the specific attributes possessed by the report. For example, its qualities might include a well researched bibliography and a nice font.

For the third example your personality is your particular character; your personalities are, either metaphorically or due to dissociative identity disorder, separate beings that reside in your one body.


1) The programmer is working hard to enhance the functionality/ functionalities of the software

Functionality is one thing, even if it includes multiple functions. You can say functionalities if you want to emphasize various aspects of functionality.

2) The quality of this report, including its appendix and abstract, is/are disappointing.

"Is" here goes with quality, which is in singular. To use "are" there would need to be qualities, but it is unusual to describe a report this way. Appendix and abstract are parts of a nondefining (nonrestrictive) clause, which is separated by commas from the main clause. The main clause is: "The quality of this report is disappointing."

3) I don't know what my personality is/are.

Personality is one thing. If you want to say you don't know what your personality includes, you say "personality is." If you want to say you feel you have multiple personalities, you say "personalities are."

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