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Are these sentences interchangeable in a context where I want to tell a person s/he has high intelligence.

  • You have high IQ.

  • You have a high IQ.

Collins dictionary and Cambridge dictionary say "IQ" can be used either as a countable noun or an uncountable noun so I wonder if these sentences I gave are interchangeable. I can find results for both the countable usage and the uncountable usage on Google Books but I had to ask you to make sure. For example, are these sentence interchangeable too:

  • I think people with high IQ are lazier.
  • I think people with high IQs are lazier.
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    The short and long versions are interchangeable in terms of meaning, but we rarely if ever use "intelligence quotient" in everyday speech. It's almost only used to answer the question, "What does IQ stand for?". Native speakers know it's an intelligence measure, but many don't know what it stands for, so if you say "intelligence quotient", it's neither natural nor clear to everyone.
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 20:04

2 Answers 2

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I would vote that "You have a high IQ" is better, preferable, the correct usage.

IQ means "intelligence quotient", whose definition, according to dictionary.com is:

an intelligence test score that is obtained by dividing mental age, which reflects the age-graded level of performance as derived from population norms, by chronological age and multiplying by 100: a score of 100 thus indicates a performance at exactly the normal level for that age group.

A test score (or an indicator, a measurement of intelligence) is countable, and as such, using an article, as demonstrated, is appropriate.

When someone says "You have high IQ", I believe, they implicitly substitute "IQ" for "intelligence", which yields the sentence: "You have high intelligence". Intelligence is not countable, thus, the article gets omitted.

This however begs the question whether one should say "high intelligence" or should one seek something better.

Consulting dictionary.com about intelligence:

  • capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
  • manifestation of a high mental capacity: He writes with intelligence and wit.
  • the faculty of understanding.
  • [...]

Out of these definitions, only few seem to go well with the adjective "high":
e.g. "high capacity for learning" is okay.

But since other — valid — definitions don't form a good companion with the adjective "high", I would suggest that "high intelligence" is not an optimal compound.

There would be better ways to express this, e.g. "you are intelligent", or "you are very intelligent". Or even, I seem to recall the phrase: "high degree of intelligence".

In conclusion, when the acronym IQ is being used, I vote for using it with an article.

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As you mentioned, you found both in Google books. This ngram comparing "with high IQ" and "with a high IQ" shows that both seem to be used pretty much equally.

There really is no difference in meaning, but whether you consider it countable or uncountable in the context of an individual's score is down to whether you view 'high IQ' as an uncountable quality that the individual has, akin to saying they are clever, intelligent etc; or an individual score that they have obtained. There are lots of comparable things - we talk about having high blood pressure (uncountable), but a high BMI (score).

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    I'll put aside my typical objections to reliance on ngram and simply ask - What if your search is turning up hits from phrases like "... schools with high IQ students"? Better test: just google "had high IQ" and "had a high IQ" (10x hits). In real life, IQ is typically treated as countable, just like BMI, as you propose. Which makes sense: quotient and index are both typically countable, and pressure, as you note, isn't.
    – cruthers
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 4:47

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