In the following degrees — "Bachelor of Science" and "Master of Science" — "science" is an uncountable or singular noun.

In contrast, in "Bachelor of Arts" and Master of Arts, "arts" is countable and plural. Wikipedia says the Master of Arts "degree is usually contrasted with the Master of Science." If so, then they should probably use the same grammar, no?

From Cambridge dictionary,

arts C1 [ plural ]: subjects, such as history, languages, and literature, that are not scientific subjects

There are several different majors/fields under each degree. We can have "Master of Science in Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, etc." and "Master of Arts in Linguistics, Political Science, Economics, etc." The point I am trying to make is that since the degrees are similar in the sense that they have multiple fields, shouldn't they both have the same noun form in the titles? Like, either both should have the countable or plural "arts" and "sciences", or both should have the uncountable "art" and "science".

There are departments/schools/programs with "sciences" in their name though: Natural Sciences, Earth Sciences, etc.

Why do they not have the same noun form in the degree titles? Why is it not "Master of Sciences"?

  • 17
    Note that the uncountable science seems to contain all sciences within it, but art is usually used to mean "visual arts", which is much narrower that the arts. Art can be used in a wider sense, but tends not to be. Having said this, the terms are originally Latin, but show the same difference: doctor scientiae (singular) vs baccalaureus artium (plural), and I don't know if the Latin word ars was used in parallel ways in singular and plural or not.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 16:56
  • 2
    Great question! To further complicate things, people do say art and science: Why Art And Science Are More Closely Related Than You Think. We have colleges of arts and sciences: 1 2 3 4. But there's also colleges of arts and science
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:15
  • 1
    You can get a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in English. The distinction is not the major but whether the degree requires working knowledge of a foreign language.
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:20
  • 1
    @Mary You mean B.S. degrees have no requirement for foreign language courses? I don't think that applies to every school, or even most schools I am familiar with.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:25
  • 9
    To expand a bit on Colin Fine's comment: I also think the explanation is historical. Medieval universities taught seven subjects or "arts" comprising the trivium and the quadrivium. Having studied these, you'd get a baccalaureus/magister artium degree – since you studied several subjects, it makes sense for the designation to be in the plural. The notion of (natural) science as a unified whole, on the other hand, is much more modern. I don't know when the first scientiae degree was conferred, but I suspect that by the time it was, it made perfect sense for it to be in the singular.
    – Kahovius
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 13:00

5 Answers 5



The central issue of question is the countable and uncountable usages of the words science and art.


Following are two common usages of science:

  • (uncountable): All activity that we think of as scientific (that is, all research based on the scientific method).
  • (countable): Any field of science (that is, any specific discipline of scientific research).

We might think about applying the same pattern as above to the word art. Between usages of the two words, science and art, we find great similarity, but also a few differences.

Art is an activity, but it is one that produces objects.

Any of the following are common ways to refer to objects produced by artistic activity (such as drawings, paintings, or sculptures):

  • Art (uncountable)
  • Artwork (uncountable)
  • Works of art (countable)

Not all kinds of artistic activity produce artwork.

  • The visual arts are artistic activity that produces artwork, and include drawing, painting, and sculpting. (A visual art is any such field.)
  • The visual arts are contrasted to the performing arts, which include music, dance, and theater. (A performing art is any such field.)

In some cases, we find that the word art confuses the activity with the objects.

As an example, the following two simple statements are not parallel:

  • "I like science": From this statement, we understand that someone likes to study science.
  • "I like art": From this statement, we think about admiring artwork, and lose the idea of studying. This loss gives us a reason to find a way to explain that someone likes to study art.

We need a way to refer to the activity of art, as distinct from artwork. The arts are all activity that we think of as artistic.

As the arts is a countable usage, we also have the singular form. An art is any field within the arts, or sometimes, any field within only the visual arts.

Putting together the above, following are common usages of art:

  • (uncountable): One or more objects of art, the same meaning as artwork.
  • (uncountable): All activity within the visual arts (not including performing arts).
  • (countable): Any field within the visual arts (not including performing arts).
  • (uncountable): All activity within the arts (including performing arts).
  • (countable): Any field within the arts (including performing arts).

Since science is all activity that we think of as scientific, we have no strong reason to use the term the sciences. Yet, sometimes we want to emphasize the diversity and number of different fields, or to create a feeling that is general but also grand.

The sciences has the same meaning as science, but has a specific feeling that makes it uncommon except in certain literary contexts.

We can conclude with the following:

  • Science is the common way to express all activity that we think of as scientific.
  • The arts is the common way to express all activity that we think of as artistic.


For degrees, like a Bachelor's degree, we emphasize the activities, science and the arts. We call the degrees Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. In titles, we often omit articles, otherwise we would use Master of the Arts. Master of Sciences would feel too general, as though someone had studied every field of science for a long time.

This patterns appears elsewhere.

Following are two examples, both related to the US government:

  • The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts are both agencies of the government. (The NSF might have been called the National Foundation for the Sciences, but this name may seem to emphasize the fields and their differences, rather than all of science together as a valuable pursuit.)

  • The Constitution lists the powers of Congress.

    It describes one of the powers in the following text (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8):

    To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

    (Note that capitalization rules are different today than during the earlier period, which treated important common nouns the same as names and other proper nouns.)

    The text means that Congress has the power to pass laws related to intellectual property ("securing", "exclusive right"), specifically for copyright ("the arts", "authors", "writings") and for patents ("science", "inventors", "discoveries").

  • Honestly, I did not find the first version difficult to read at all. I would rather prefer that one vs the new edit, because this one is now longer.
    – AIQ
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 3:51
  • The sciences has the same meaning as science - I have to disagree with this. The sciences is the set of specific subjects, whereas science is a much more general term. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 13:25
  • I'd prefer "artifacts" to "objects" (to differentiate it from direct/indirect object) but YMMV.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 15:15
  • Careful, I think there are two meanings of the word "art" that are getting lumped together: 1) the so-called "fine arts", e.g. music, painting, dance, etc; 2) "liberal arts" which includes some "soft" sciences (e.g. psychology) as well. I'm not an expert, but it seems that the terms "art" and "science" are not so distinct as we may think (at least in higher education, which seems like the point of the OP). The intertwined history (i.e. Greco-Roman) of the two likely influences how we see them today.
    – Kelvin
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 17:17
  • @user7761803: Would you expand by clarifying exactly what you believe is the difference?
    – brainchild
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 18:28

The short answer is that the words "art/arts" and "science/sciences" are used differently in various idiomatic ways.

Both "art" and "science" can be considered mass nouns, often referred to as uncountable nouns. If you had a collection of many pieces of art, you could refer to it all as "my art". Likewise, "science" can refer to all science collectively, for example, "the advance of modern science", or "the laws of science".

Both can also be used in the plural when referring to individual disciplines or types of art and science.

  • "The arts" refers collectively to all forms of art, including visual arts, literature, performing arts, culinary arts, etc. In the case of 'Bachelor of Arts' this extends to humanities and sciences.

  • "The sciences" refers collectively to all forms of science, including biology, physics, chemistry, etc.

However, whereas the singular "science" is always an umbrella term that incorporates all disciplines of science, the singular "art" is nearly always assumed by default to refer to visual art, in particular, painting and drawing. If someone said "I'm a scientist", most people would follow up with "what kind?", whereas if someone said "I'm an artist" there would likely be an assumption that they produced paintings or drawings, and not that they were a performing artist. Usually, one would specify "I'm a musician" or "I'm an actor".

It seems logical then that the titles "Bachelor of Arts" and "Bachelor of Science" are so.

  • 1
    A nitpick: yes, ‘the arts’ could, conceivably, refer to culinary arts, but in most contexts it won’t (same goes for literature, although to a lesser extent by a great degree). Otherwise, great answer. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 6:55
  • 1
    Just a few fine points: 1) Art may refer to a single piece of artwork as well as a collection. 2) The assumption may be too restrictive that art is "nearly always assumed" to refer to visual art, though I do agree that in a plain vernacular context the sense of the word generally points in favor of visual arts.
    – brainchild
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 8:25
  • Maybe virtual arts is a bit too narrow (I'd also think of performing artists), but I agree, it doesn't have the all-encompassing quality as science has. When people say "I am an artists" I wouldn't think of them as a writer, for example. But literature is an art and a BA in literature is a BA of Arts.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 10:22
  • @Polygnome: It's a bit nuanced. No one explains the fact of being a writer using the word artist, but a writer explains the experience of writing as the experience of an artist, simply because, indeed, writing is an art and therefore a writer is an artist. So whether the writer identifies as an artist depends on whether being asked "what are you?" or "what is your experience as a writer?"
    – brainchild
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 10:43
  • "Science" here also doesn't necessarily refer to the subject being studied, but the "approach" used to study it.
    – chepner
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 13:17

The other answers have pointed to the distinction between art and arts in Modern English, a polysemous word borrowed from Latin via French. There is a historical dimension to this, which I think is a crucial part of the explanation.

If you went to university in medieval Europe, you wouldn't study Linguistics or Economics or anything like that, but instead all of the classical "seven liberal arts" comprising the medieval trivium and quadrivium: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Having studied these, you'd receive a baccalaureus/magister artium degree, where it is to be noted that artium is the plural genitive of ars (to be translated something like "skill"). Since you studied several subjects, it made sense for the designation to be in plural, too. This usage seems to have continued into more modern times, even though modern universities are structured in completely different ways and even though subjects like arithmetic and astronomy are hardly considered liberal arts anymore.

Back in those times, on the other hand, there was no such thing as a "Faculty of Science". (Having a BA or MA in hand, you could go on to study law, medicine or theology, but not "Science".) The notion of (natural) science as a unified enterprise is much more modern, and the first faculties of science were founded relatively late (e.g. 1850 at the University of Copenhagen, almost 400 years after the foundation of the university itself). At this point, it probably made sense for the degree nomination to be in the singular, as well, though more historical research is needed to establish how all of this unfolded in detail. Incidentally, some languages do use the plural with science: Finnish universities, for example, confer the degree of luonnontieteiden kandidaatti, literally "bachelor of natural sciences".

  • 1
    I think that the historical perspective is valuable. As the usages have changed much over time, earlier decisions might not reflect current norms, but they surely may explain the beginnings of certain traditions. It would be nice if somehow this answer might be expanded to argue why the choice of the singular science would have been such a compelling choice even in spite of the likely pressure to preserve the established precedent from the plural arts.
    – brainchild
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 23:44
  • Thanks for this wonderful answer, I really appreciate this angle, and it makes a lot of sense.
    – AIQ
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 3:51
  • And such plural usage in some languages is not modern either: Fracis Bacon wrote "De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum" where scientiarum is obviously the plural genitive "of sciences". Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:44
  • I think this is the only truly correct answer. The other answers focus on the true but not insightful fact that either "Science" or "Sciences" ("Art" or "Arts") would be acceptable in modern use. They do not address the origin of the difference in idiomatic use, and thus do not answer the question.
    – Xerxes
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 15:58
  • @epl: I would guess that it's a Bachelor/Master of Science degree because it's generally awarded in just one science (sometimes two, if you do a dual major). So it's a BS in Chemistry, Physics, or whatever, unlike the historical arts degree.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 0:50

I cannot improve upon the other two excellent answers but I'll just give a short answer.

Arts refers to the humanities, which is multi-disciplinary.

Science is multi-disciplinary as well. For example, both biologists and engineers have a Bachelors of Science. It's just that art is usually used to refer to something specific, whereas science is already a broad term.

Therefore, we don't use Bachelor of Art because art is something specific. Arts is meant to accomplish the same broad feel as science already does. It's not that science isn't multidisciplinary, it's that art isn't.


It's because of the long-standing idiom The Arts from which "Arts" has been taken as the name of that area of study.

Other disciplines lack this herritage and so are plainly named in the singluar.

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