Trying to understand when I need to use "the whole" before common nouns and when "the whole of the", I came across the following rule on wordreference.com:
If a singular common noun is countable, we must use "the whole" before it.
If a singular common noun is uncountable, we must use "the whole of the" before it.

Examples from cambridge.org:
(1a) The whole performance was disappointing from start to finish.
(1b) The whole of the performance was disappointing from start to finish.
(2a) You don’t have to pay the whole bill at once.
(2b) You don’t have to pay the whole of the bill at once.
(3a) We spent the whole summer at the beach.
(3b) We spent the whole of the summer at the beach.

As far as I understood from "cambridge.org":
(1a) = (1b)
(2a) = (2b)
(3a) = (3b)

I am inferring from the rule above that the nouns "performance", "bill" and "summer" are:
— countable in (1a), (2a) and (3a) [because they are after "the whole"];
— uncountable in (1b), (2b) and (3b) [because they are after "the whole of the"].
Is my conclusion right?
If not, then why not?

  • You're saying that performance, bill, and summer are countable in versions (a) and not in (b)? I'm not so sure about this rule. "The whole of the bill" is an abstract concept about what to pay the restaurant? A bill I am paying is hardly uncountable. Aug 29, 2023 at 0:47
  • "The whole of the" is a valid though rare construction. It means the entirety of the idea. The whole bill means the complete amount you see right there. You will never pay an idea in installments. Aug 29, 2023 at 0:53
  • I don't believe there is such a rule. This Ngram shows that usage of the whole of the has dramatically declined since the early 19th century. Aug 29, 2023 at 8:22

1 Answer 1


Whoever wrote that post on Wordreference is completely wrong. That's not surprising since it's just a random person posting on a forum.

As you see from the examples on Cambridge.org, writing "the whole..." and "the whole of the..." are interchangeable. The question of countable or uncountable doesn't enter into it. In fact if the noun is uncountable then you should not be using "whole of" at all. Instead of saying "the whole air" or "the whole of the air" you should say "all the air" or "all of the air".

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