According to Macmillan Dictionary, the noun 'use' can be both countable and uncountable. How to understand whether it is countable or uncountable in a given context?

Here're some examples I saw that could be used with either of the determiners given in square brackets, and the choice really depend on whether 'use' there is a mass noun:

There is a clear correlation between [the/a/-] use of electrical appliances and time spent on household chores.

[The/a/-] use of email has increased.

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    As commented within that earlier question, besides the definite and indefinite articles (the and a / an). syntactically we can distinguish two different subtypes of 'invisible' article - the zero (Ø1) and the null (Ø2). Examples: We had Ø1 chicken / a chicken for tea. She was hired as Ø2 special assistant / the special assistant to the president. Article usage is complex. Oct 5, 2022 at 11:21
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    I don't consider this a dupe of the other question. The answer at that other question isn't specifically about "use", and it qualifies with "tends to".
    – gotube
    Oct 5, 2022 at 17:17
  • Did you notice that 'I wonder how to define whether…' couldn't really work, whatever the context? I suspect '… how to decide…' is what you wanted, but that's not the same thing. Oct 6, 2022 at 23:05
  • @RobbieGoodwin thanks for being so attentive, but it is not what I asked. Oct 11, 2022 at 15:13
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    Please be clear, you are not asking how to 'define' but rather, how to 'decide' whether to put an article before the word 'use'. Statistically, there might well be a clear correlation between electrical appliances and time spent on household chores but how could that matter? 'The' use of email might have increased. To you, what might 'a' use mean? Oct 12, 2022 at 21:54

2 Answers 2


That Macmillan page shows that some meanings of "use" are countable while others aren't, and some can be both.

Your two examples both have the meaning, the act of using something, which Macmillan lists as uncountable.



  • There is a clear correlation between the use of electrical appliances and time spent on household chores.

  • The use of email has increased.

The determiner "the" is used because this is specific to what comes after the of.

The point of answering is to be informative.

The king of the fair was David.
The use of hand-held tools takes time to learn.

Please note: the uncountable noun use can be replaced by a gerund: using

  • Can I add a follow-up quesiton? why there is no article "the” before the word "time", in "between the use of electrical appliances and [time] spent on household chores"?
    – Dada
    Oct 22, 2022 at 12:44
  • @Dada Because in English, abstract nouns like time, wealth, poverty, etc. don't require a determiner. Only if surrounded by other things: The time [specific] I spent washing dishes last night. VERSUS Time [general concept] spent on household chores can be all consuming.
    – Lambie
    Oct 22, 2022 at 14:00

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