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As far as I understand, based on the literal meanings of the words "countable" and "uncountable":
A noun is called countable when it can be counted, i.e. can be used with cardinal numbers (one, two, three, etc).
A noun is called uncountable when it can't be counted, i.e. can't be used with cardinal numbers.

By this definition:
If a meaning of a noun has the tag "singular" in a dictionary, such a noun in the given meaning can't be pluralize, i.e. can't be used with the cardinal numbers "two, three, etc" - therefore it's uncountable.
If a meaning of a noun has the tag "plural" in a dictionary, such a noun in the given meaning can't be used with the cardinal number "one" - therefore it's uncountable.

That is, according to the definition, I should regard all nouns with the tag "singular" or "plural" as uncountable.
Am I right ???


By this logic, I can take as examples any words having the tag "singular" or "plural".

For instance:
bore, drip, entry
the fold, the underneath, the supernatural
a handful
devotions, funds, matters
the living, the mechanics

And proceeding from the logic of the defenition, these nouns (within the fixed meanings described below) are uncountable.
Do you agree?


one of the meanings of "bore" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
bore — [singular] a situation or thing that is boring or that annoys you:
It's such a bore having to stay late this evening.

one of the meanings of "drip" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
drip — [singular] the sound or action of small drops of liquid falling continuously:
the steady drip of water from the tap

one of the meanings of "entry" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
entry — [singular] the total number of people who are taking part in a competition, race, etc.:
There's a record entry for this year's marathon.

one of the meanings of "fold" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
the fold — [singular] a group of people who share the same ideas or beliefs:
He called on former Republican voters to return to the fold.

one of the meanings of "underneath" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
the underneath — [singular] ​the lower surface or part of something:
She pulled the drawer out and examined the underneath carefully.

one of the meanings of "supernatural" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
the supernatural — [singular] events, forces or powers that cannot be explained by the laws of science and that seem to involve gods or magic:
a belief in the supernatural

one of the meanings of "handful" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
a handful — [singular] (informal) a person or an animal that is difficult to control:
Her children can be a real handful.

one of the meanings of "devotion" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
devotions — [plural] prayers and other religious practices:
She went to her devotions.

one of the meanings of "fund" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
funds — [plural] money that is available to be spent:
The hospital is trying to raise funds for a new kidney machine.

one of the meanings of "matter" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
matters — [plural] the present situation, or the situation that you are talking about:
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to improve matters.

one of the meanings of "living" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
the living — [plural] people who are alive now:
the living and the dead

one of the meanings of "mechanic" from oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
the mechanics — [plural] the way something works or is done:
The exact mechanics of how payment will be made will be decided later.

2 Answers 2

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I would say that the words are uncountable only in that exact definition. For example, bore meaning a boring person is countable, but when it means an annoying situation it isn't (we can't say "It's such bores having to work late every day this week."). We can speak of the number of entries in a competition (individual people), but when we use entry to refer to the total number as in the definition you quote, I would call that uncountable.

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  • The bores were the largest we had drilled. But I agree with your basic comment.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 14:35
  • But in "it is such a bore", it may be an idiom, yet "a bore" is countable, since it is marked with the article "a".
    – James K
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 17:26
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This is not the grammatical meaning of the word countable. Countable nouns are used with the article "a" when in the singular, or have a plural form.

Therefore "a bore" is countable. As is "a ... handful"

There are a couple of examples of uncountable nouns in your list: "entry" is used uncountably, as is "drip".

Now the other examples you give are countable nouns which can appear in particular idioms. As they are in idioms, it is not generally possible to use words in these senses except as part of the idiom. Whether the word is countable or not is therefore not very useful. You can't use the fact that the word is countable to build new sentences.

Consider "fold". This is a regular countable noun when it means an enclosure for sheep. You can have "a fold" for sheep or you can have "three folds". However, when used to mean "a group of people" it is nearly always in the idiom "return to the fold". You can't really take it out of the idiom and say "how much fold". However it is better to think of it as a countable noun. In theses cases the noun is always used with the definite article "the".

The plural examples are by definition countable. But these senses are defective, and they are also generally rather idiomatic. In the sense given you many not be able to enumerate something, but that is a practical matter, not part of the grammar.

So it doesn't make sense to ask "how many matters?" when someone says "Matters have got worse". But merely by the fact that the noun is plural means it must be countable. However that isn't actually very useful.

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