1. Water boils at 100°c.

2. Still waters run deep.

Based on the two sentences we can say that water is both uncountable and countable.If water is countable "a water" should be there as in the case of "fish". we can say fish, fishes and a fish.

I would like to ask how it is possible to use plural form for "water".

A little water and a little sugar are possible but we can not say "a sugar" and "a water"

Is it because language is arbitrary?

Is it because native speakers Use it both ways?

Is there any grammatical base for this use?

It is not a duplicate of "flood" or " a flood" since I showed the example of fish.

  • Just because a word is countable in one sense, it doesn't mean that it is countable in all senses. See definition 2.3 of water in Lexico. Aug 31, 2019 at 17:02
  • @PeterShor.That comes under arbitrariness of language Aug 31, 2019 at 17:05
  • @Mari-LouA.Is there any flaw in my question? is my question logical or not.Please feel free to answer Aug 31, 2019 at 17:50
  • 1
    It's fine. I posted the links to help clarify your confusion, and because it's handy to have more than one related question in the linked column for future visitors.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 31, 2019 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


The countable form used in the example, "waters" is poetic in use, and means "streams, rivers, lakes" collectively. Singular use in this sense is very rare, and archaic:

And as they went on their waye, they cam unto a certayne water (from an old translation of the Bible, in modern translations it is "river".)

In modern English this sense is only used poetically and only in the plural.

The plural can also be used for "regions of the sea" The territorial waters of the UK or "spa water" take the waters at Tunbridge Wells. In these senses it is always plural.

As a singular, it means "a serving of drinking water" *I'll have a water and a beer, please. But even in this sense, it is rather rare. "A glass of water" or similar would more common.

In nearly all other use, water is uncountable. Except in the rare cases described above, you don't use the plural "waters" or the countable singular "a water".

The word is unlike "fish" because "fish" is an acceptable plural of "fish". The only acceptable plural of "water" is "waters". The word "water" is singular, never plural.

The expression "a little water" is not a use of a countable noun "a water", it is the compound determiner "a little", which modifies the uncountable noun "water". Consider that you can't say "two little waters", because the compound word is "a little".

  • In the diom Still waters run deep, it is clearly plural.your answer is what I know. I think it is just a matter of usage which defies logic Aug 31, 2019 at 17:11
  • It is clearly plural. This is the poetic usage in the first paragraph. What is your question?
    – James K
    Aug 31, 2019 at 17:13
  • .If it is plural, there should be the use of a water Aug 31, 2019 at 17:17
  • No. That is not correct. There are some words that are only used in the plural in certain senses.
    – James K
    Aug 31, 2019 at 17:20
  • For example "Clothes" (in the sense of things you wear) is always plural. The singular "cloth" has a different meaning.
    – James K
    Aug 31, 2019 at 17:24

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