I have a question about the use of uncountable nouns with "variety" and "range".

  1. The restaurant offers a range of food.
  2. The store sells a variety of furniture.
  3. The dog exhibits a range of behavior.

According to dictionaries, "variety" and "range" mean a "group of similar things". So, would using them with uncountable nouns like "food", "furniture", and "behavior" be wrong?

  • Would it not be variety/range of behaviours? I'm by no means certain, but it just looks like it ought to be. – gone fishin' again. May 20 '15 at 18:26
  • @Tetsujin- Yes, I agree. I'd use "range of foods" and "range of behaviors" – Jim May 20 '15 at 18:49
  • @Jim So, sentence 2 should be changed to "the store sells a variety of furnitures"? – meatie May 20 '15 at 19:07
  • @meatie: No. Furniture can only be a mass noun, whereas food and behaviour can also be used as count nouns. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 20 '15 at 19:16
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    This store offers a range of ranges. – J.R. May 21 '15 at 1:12

No, either word is fine in each of those contexts. Range has a connotation (which variety lacks) suggesting that the items could be placed on some sort of continuum, but I can't think of any cases where a variety of _____ would be correct and a range of _____ would not, or vice versa.

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No, either word would be fine in any of those examples.

However, in all three of those examples, I'm understanding there to be an implied 'types' at the end:

  1. The restaurant offers a range of food types.
  2. The store sells a variety of furniture types.
  3. The dog exhibits a range of behavior types.

This is not the only way to make those sentences look nicer and more formal. There are other words that could be added instead: "a range of furniture options". Pluralizing the words could also help: "a variety of foods". In this case, each 'food' would be a different food type.

Note that 'range' weakly implies some sort of continuum, meaning that the things being considered could be put into some kind of order. You could have a range of prices, or a range of colors. It can be used on things where this is less natural and obvious, like food types, but might not be the best choice.

'Variety', on the other hand, is just a bunch of different things. There doesn't need to be any kind of ordering. If there is an obvious ordering, like with prices, it would probably be better to use 'range'. So, for your three examples:

  1. The restaurant offers a variety of food.
  2. The store sells a variety of furniture.
  3. The dog exhibits a range of behavior.

I prefer 'range' for behavior. For a dog, I would expect the behavior to range from friendly to hostile. I wouldn't bat an eye at 'variety' instead.

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  • +1 for the bit about a continuum. A restaurant offering a variety of food is just that. I think range sounds awkward in that context, unless we're talking about, say, a range of spiciness, or a range of prices. – J.R. May 21 '15 at 1:14

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