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The following is an example from the Cambridge dictionary:

The proposed law is intended to provide legal protections for farm workers.

What would be the difference between "protection" and "protections" in the above example? "Protection" is generally used uncountably in such contexts, then what does "protections" suggest here?

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    The plural form suggests multiple subsections within the proposed "law" that will provide legal protection in various different specific ways. Arguably implying that much effort went into drafting this all-embracing bill (i.e. - this is extremely subtle "persuasive writing" - if the writer had been referring to a previous law that he didn't agree with, it's almost certain he would never have used the plural form there). Mar 29 '21 at 13:14
  • Again, with the limb, and the not going out on! Why, @FumbleFingers, why!? 😭 (The +1 is from me, BTW 🤓)
    – tkp
    Mar 29 '21 at 14:15
  • @tkp: I don't really understand that. Do you mean you think my point about "persuasive writing" doesn't stand up to scrutiny? It's not easy to see how I could find either usage statistics or authoritative commentary to back me up, but I'm pretty sure of my ground here. Possibly the writer didn't realise why he chose to use the plural, but that doesn't affect the fact that his choice does in fact have a detectable effect (on at least some readers, to at least some degree). Mar 29 '21 at 15:05
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    @FumbleFingers No. I simply mean that it's a good answer and I'm giving you (once again) a friendly nudge to upgrade it from a comment to an actual answer You answer-in-a-comment a lot, your stated reason being simply caution, I just want to reiterate that you appear to know what you are talking about, your advice is clear and easy to understand, and deserves to be in an answer proper. I'm often tempted to simply fix it myself, replicating your comments as an answer, but I don't want to steal your rep points.
    – tkp
    Mar 29 '21 at 15:23
  • 1
    @tkp: Okay, consider me nudged! (again?! :) Mar 29 '21 at 16:14
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The proposed law is intended to provide legal protections for farm workers.

protections means various ways of protecting farm workers.

This might include: providing them with gloves, drinking water, and accessible toilets during working hours. Or it could be about working hours, etc.

Each of those items would be an example of a protection.

The proposed law is intended to provide legal protection for farm workers.

protection with no s, or used as what we call an abstract noun refers to the general idea of protection and does not spell out or enumerate what specific protections the law provides.

So depending on what you want to say, you can use either, but with different meanings.

US Law The Migrant & Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act

GENERAL

Title II — Migrant Agricultural Workers Protections [specific]

Sec. 201. Information and recordkeeping requirements. Sec. 202. Wages, supplies, and other working arrangements. Sec. 203. Safety and health of housing.

Please note: proposed laws provide protection or protections.

Saying legal here is redundant.

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The plural form suggests multiple subsections within the proposed "law" that will provide legal protection in various different specific ways. Arguably this implies that much effort went into drafting this all-embracing bill, because it addresses a range of different ways in which workers needed to be protected.

To my mind this is evidence of extremely subtle "persuasive writing". If the writer had been referring to a previous law that he didn't agree with, it's extremely unlikely he'd have used the plural form there.

Possibly the writer himself didn't realise why he chose to use the plural, but that doesn't affect the fact that his choice does in fact have a detectable effect (on at least some readers, to at least some degree).


As OP points out, protection "is generally used uncountably in such contexts". Just to confirm that, here's an NGram usage chart for law provides legal protection, where you'll see that the plural form law provides legal protections is too uncommon to even show on the chart.

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  • Try: "law provides protections"; that is already legal.
    – Lambie
    Mar 29 '21 at 16:47
  • I can't see that the presence or absence of "redundant" legal makes much difference. The singular uncountable form is way more common in either case. Mar 29 '21 at 16:58
  • The point is the difference in meaning and one sees tons of both.
    – Lambie
    Mar 29 '21 at 17:07
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There's a significant difference between them.

When you're talking about "legal protections", you're talking about a number of individual protections for the person in question that have been enshrined in law - for instance, various protections for workers regarding working conditions and pay. When you're talking about "legal protection", you're talking about protection from legal processes - for instance, that you can't be sued for something.

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