All my "learner's dictionaries" - Oxford, Cambridge, and Longman- say that "intelligence" is an uncountable noun which means " the ability to learn, understand, and think in a logical way about something" (and I should say that I have no access to OED).However, I came across "AN intelligence" while reading an article titled "Clever Hans" which was about an intelligent horse:

Hans the horse was bought in 1900 by Wilhelm von Osten, a retired German schoolmaster, who was convinced that animals had an intelligence equal to that of humans.

My question is, if "intelligence" can be used as a countable noun, does it differ in meaning from "intelligence" as an uncountable noun?

  • 2
    Good question +1. It seems authors do use an intelligence in some rare cases. "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function"" - F. Scott Fitzgerald
    – Maulik V
    May 29, 2014 at 10:00

1 Answer 1


Intelligence is not being used as a countable noun in Clever Hans. There's some information ellipted; read the sentence like this:

... animals had an amount or degree of intelligence equal to that of humans.

Here, intelligence is qualifiable but not quantifiable.

However, it is possible to use intelligence as a countable noun, though this usage is less common. See definition 1.1 here and definition 2 here. A common usage of this involves a countable but heterogeneous group of either intelligent minds or types of mental processing. For example:

  • There are many different types of intelligence. (Here intelligence means efficacious manner of thinking.)
  • Space exploration might discover intelligences other than our own. (Here intelligence means conscious mind or being.)
  • 1
    That's a good point. I had never thought some information might have been left out delibrately by the author.
    – M.N
    May 29, 2014 at 11:13

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