In this sentence, is oil allowed (mass noun) or should it be oils?

Hurry and get your hands on any of our premium Shell engine oil/oils and get a free cleaner at a great price!

(This sentence would accompany a picture showing the engine oils.)

  • 3
    You didn't ask about this bit of the sentence but — "get a free cleaner at a great price!" — is confusing to me. Is it free, or is it at a great price (e.g. a large discount, like 50% off RRP)? Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 12:02
  • @anotherdave you get the oil at a great price, and it comes with a free cleaner.
    – Aubreal
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 17:00
  • @AlexandreAubrey Is that the way you'd naturally read the sentence? For that meaning, I'd expect it to be flipped — e.g. "get your hands on our premium Shell engine oils at a great price, and get a free cleaner!" or possibly "get your hands on our premium Shell engine oils, including a free cleaner, all at a great price" Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 17:28
  • 1
    @anotherdave yes, that's how I naturally read it. You get "oil plus free cleaner" at a great price.
    – Aubreal
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 14:21

8 Answers 8


Oil is a mass noun, and so does not normally take a plural

Like most mass nouns though, the plural form "oils" can be used to refer to multiple distinct varieties

In this case, the use of "any" suggests that you should choose from a selection of different types of oil, and so "oils" is most appropriate. If the singular "oil" is used, it should say "some of our premium Shell engine oil" instead

  • 1
    The only place I've regularly heard "oils" used as a plural noun is when referring to paintings or the paints used to make them. In either case they're a shortening of the phrase "oil paintings" or "oil paints", as opposed to acrylics, temperas, watercolors, etc. Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 15:33
  • 4
    it crops up a lot in cooking, and whilst I haven't heard it in the context of a range of engine oils it makes sense
    – Tristan
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 15:47
  • 3
    ... also "essential oils" (eg., peppermint oil and lemon oil are both essential oils) and personal grooming (eg., shampoo containing oils from both cocoanut and almond).
    – minnmass
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 19:57

If a variety of types of oil are shown, the plural fits better. If they are all the same, it should be singular, "some of our premium Shell oil".


Mass nouns in English are a bit tricky. A significant percentage of English nouns can be either countable (regular nouns) or uncountable (mass nouns) depending on context. For a vast majority of these nouns though, the meaning associated with the uncountable form can also be used with the plural of the countable form to refer to types or varieties of the item referred to by the uncountable form.

‘paper’ is a good example of this. In the normal countable form it refers to specific instances of paper (or papers, in the same sense as an academic treatise or a newspaper). In the uncountable form though, it refers to the material in bulk, and you can then use the countable plural form to refer to multiple varieties of paper with a single noun.

‘oil’ works roughly the same. In this case, they’re obviously referring to different types engine oil (more concretely in context, different formulations or blends of the various components of engine oil), so the correct form is ‘oils’.

  • 'Beer': "I drank a lot of beer last Saturday" [how much?] "Eight beers".
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 17:53

In this case "oils" is correct because they are referring to different types of engine oil (different weights and viscosities like 5W-30, 10W-30, 10W-40, synthetic, blended, etc.).

Similar with cooking oil - you have different types like vegetable oil, olive oil, corn oil, coconut oil.

So if you're describing a quantity of oil by volume or weight, use the singular - "a quart of oil" or "a barrel of oil" or "50 lbs of oil", even if it's a blend of different types of oil.

If you're describing more than one type of oil, use the plural - "a variety of cooking oils", "different engine oils", etc.


"Oil" is a mass noun, so the singular form is appropriate. While answers are supposed to stand on their own, I think that there are arguments in other answers that should be addressed:

In this case, the use of "any" suggests that you should choose from a selection of different types of oil

It is perfectly reasonable to use "any" to refer to a single type of a mass noun. "If you drink any of my milk, you should go to the store and buy more" doesn't suggest more than one type of milk.

If a variety of types of oil are shown, the plural fits better.

No, just having different varieties is not sufficient to justify the plural. The focus is on their supply of oil as a whole. The plural is appropriate when the focus is on the different types of oil. For instance "Most oils are less dense than water." If a gas station has 500 L of premium gasoline and 400 L of regular, they have 900 L of gasoline, not 900 L of gasolines.


With a picture showing the engine oils.

I think you've answered your own question! Oils is an ellipsis of types of oil, variety of oil, etc. Any mass noun can become plural in this way. Without the plural, it seems to be a quantity of a single type of oil, although singular oil could also be interpreted as different types of oil.

We have three types of milk: cow, goat, and yak. Taste the milks to see how they differ.

Both the singular and plural are acceptable, although the plural reduces the ambiguity of the singular.


The answer is given by Shell

Shell make a variety of oils.

PERFORMANCE OILS enter image description here https://www.shell.co.kr/en_kr/motorists/premium-products-for-your-vehicle.html

enter image description here


"Oil" is an uncountable/mass noun. Which means, it can't be plural.

"Oil" is the only possible option there.

  • 4
    like most mass nouns, "oil" can take a plural to mean multiple varieties are referred to. In this case, the use of "any" rather than "some" suggests a selection from discrete types of oil, i.e. "oils"
    – Tristan
    Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 15:30
  • 1
    @Tristan Oh, I get it now. If we focus on the oil itself, can't be plural because the substance can't be divided into parts. But it's true that in the context they are referring to multiple kinds of oil available for selling... So in that case it's true that you can actually count types of oils, or simply oils. My mistake! Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 15:36
  • but here's the thing, it's the same oil, for the same car lineup. w20, w40, w80 for example. These are the passenger oil lineup. Shell has different oils for different lineups (e.g. trucks has w20 w40 and w80, mini-buses w60 w50 and w10, motorcycles etc...) so if we're talking here about shell oil for the passenger line which is more than one, is it still "oil" Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 15:58
  • @PinaColada33 The sentence you showed as an example then... What is it about? Cars, trucks, motorcycles? Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 16:05
  • The sentence was only showcasing engine oil for cars. they have different versions. but only for cars. Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 16:33

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