http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/correspondence exemplifies only the singular noun and http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2008/10/correspondence-course.html claims:

“Correspondence” is a singular noun for the letters and emails and so on that are exchanged by parties who communicate with one another. In ordinary English, it’s not used in the plural (“correspondences”). But “correspondents,” meaning people who correspond, is plural.

  1. Does this contradict https://www.google.com/search?q=%22correspondences+via+email%22&btnG=Chercher+des+livres&tbm=bks&tbo=1&hl=fr&gws_rd=ssl#hl=fr&q=%22email+correspondences%22&tbm=bks, which yields >10 pages for "email correspondences"?

  2. What's this phenomenon called? Are there any other nouns with it?

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    As this NGram shows, plural email correspondences is so rare compared to the singular form that it's not unreasonable to say it's not used in ordinary English. For the usage being examined, correspondence is a mass noun, which is why it's not normally pluralised. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 15:28

1 Answer 1


Your quotation describes a formal use of the term correspondence which is now rapidly becoming obsolete.

Until fairly recently correspondence in the context of the exchange of letters and other communications was employed almost entirely as a singular mass noun, to designate an entire body of communications between two parties, or more. This use hewed pretty closely to the etymological sense of the term, a back-and-forth answering. Individual items in the correspondence were referred to with a term designating the medium (letter, telegram, and so forth) or as communications, and the plural correspondences was used only when different bodies of communication were involved—for instance, the distinct ‘correspondences’ of A with B and with C—and even there was somewhat unusual.

In recent years, however, correspondence has with growing frequency been used as a count noun, to designate instances of correspondence: an individual letter or telegram or email is now often referred to as ‘a correspondence’. (I suspect that this use has arisen at least in part because the significance of communication has been greatly extended; in fact, it has in some respects taken over the old sense of correspondence.)

For now, in formal use, you would probably do best to confine yourself to the old mass-noun use; but I suspect that in thirty or forty years that use will have been superseded even in formal registers by the new count-noun use.

  • "becoming obsolescent" -> obsolescent means "becoming obsolete" :) Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 17:04
  • @GalacticCowboy Of course you are right. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 17:36
  • @LePressentiment It's just language change, and it happens to most words at some point. Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 1:55
  • @LePressentiment I would be surprised to find any word which has not undergone such meaning shifts. Even very narrow technical terms change their meanings as understanding of the phenomena they apply to changes. Like people, words stop changing only when they're dead. Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 15:50

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