Expression of Number in Different Classes of Nouns
1. Not all nouns have both numbers, singular and plural. There are nouns which are used only in the singular (snow, water, friendship, bravery) and nouns which are used only in the plural (scissors [ножницы], eye-glasses [очки]).
2. It is quite evident that only those nouns have both numbers (singular and plural) which denote things that can be counted, that is, things possessing a certain shape or having precise limits. Such nouns may be called countables or thing-nouns. To the group of nouns which have both numbers belong:
a) Concrete nouns: a girl – two girls; a book – two books; a flower – two flowers.
b) Abstract nouns: a day – two days; an event – two events; a task – two tasks.
Five boys belonging to a seaside village went out fishing in a boat. My family is small. The apple tree was covered with tiny pink blossoms. You have done your task excellently.
Nouns which have both numbers (countables) may be used with the indefinite article (in the singular) and associated with the pronouns some (in the singular or plural), many and few (in the plural):
There is a mistake in your dictation. What a fine day! Give me some book to read. She has many (few or some) friends.
3. Nouns denoting things which have neither shape nor precise limits cannot be counted and therefore have no distinction between singular and plural; they are used only in the singular. Such nouns may be called uncountables or mass-nouns. To the group of nouns used only in the singular belong:
a) Concrete nouns (names of materials): water, snow, bread, air:
Iron is heavy. The house was built of stone. The snow has melted.
Note! To express measure of the substance expressed by an uncountable noun the following is used:
a piece of cake
a slice of bread, cake, meat
a loaf of bread
a bar of chocolate
a lump of sugar
a carton of milk
a tin of lemonade
a tube of toothpaste
a bottle of milk
a jar of jam
a grain of rice, barley, wheat
a pinch of salt
a piece/stick of chalk
five pounds of sugar
a blade of grass
a bag of flour
a packet of tea, sugar
a spoonful of sugar, flour, etc.
a n amount of leasure
a stroke of luck
a fit of temper
a means of transport
an item of news
a sheet of paper
a yard of cloth
a state of health, disorder, uncertainty
b) Abstract nouns: friendship, patriotism, love, kindness, courage:
How beautiful is youth, how beautiful is life!
Nouns used only in the singular (uncountables) require the zero-article where a noun which expresses both numbers (countable) would be associated with the indefinite article; they may be used with the pronouns what, some, much or little:
What cold weather! I have received permission to use these books. We have had much rainy weather this year. I need some help in this matter. What interesting work! What pleasant news!
4. A number of nouns in English which are used only in the singular (uncountables) may through a change or variation of meaning acquire the forms of both numbers, singular and plural (and thus become countables). This is found in the following instances:
a) Material nouns which are used only in the singular (uncountables) express both numbers, singular and plural (countables), when they denote different sorts:
This wine is different from the one we drank yesterday. There are many different wines on this list. The teas (tobaccos) of this plantation are of a very good quality. We produce high quality steels.
Note. – When a material noun serves to denote an object made of that material, it becomes a class-noun and may be used in both numbers:
Give me a glass (twoglasses) of water. I have bought a new iron (two new irons). A copper, two coppers (медная монета, медяк).
b) The noun hair is used in the singular (волосы); hairs is used only with the meaning of a few separate hairs (волосок, волоски):
His hair is dark. She has a few grey hairs. She has more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs. (Shakespeare.)
c) The noun fruit is used in the singular. The plural form fruits denotes different kinds of fruit:
The fruit is not yet ripe. We have much fruitthis year. But: Many fruits ripen now: apples, pears, plums. A pear and an apple are two fruits.
The plural form fruits is also used when the meaning is figurative:
Fruits of the workers' toil are buried in the strong coffers of a few. (The International.) The rich fruits of the heroic labour of Soviet people are visible from all corners of the earth, and they are an inspiration to the citizens of the People's Democracies advancing along the path of Socialism.
d) Abstract nouns which are used only in the singular (uncountables), taken in a general sense, acquire both numbers (and thus become countables) when they express concrete instances or special aspects of the notion which they denote:
The joys of childhood. The pleasures of winter sport. A brilliant idea, many brilliant ideas. Her fears were ungrounded. Various noises came from the street. Little Sharp, with her secret griefs, was the heroine of the day.
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, || But in battalions. (Shakespeare.)
Note. – When such nouns as beauty, youth, etc., do not denote abstract qualities but people characterized by those qualities, they become class-nouns and are used in both numbers (like countable nouns): a beauty (красавица), а youth (юноша):
This girl is a real beauty. The youths were marching with red banners.
Some abstract nouns are used in English only in the singular (uncountables), whereas in Russian the corresponding nouns are used in both numbers (countables): information, news, business, advice, work (работа), progress (успех), and others:
We have received much valuable information. This news is very pleasant. She gave me some good advice. I have much work to do. She is making splendid progress in English.
To indicate concrete instances of advice, information, etc., the words piece or item are used:
That is a valuable piece of Information you have given me. She gave me a very good piece of advice (two pieces of good advice). He communicated that piece of knowledge to my friend. It was a most interesting item of information.
5. Sometimes material nouns and abstract nouns are used in the plural with emphatic force:
The frozen snows of the Arctic; the sands of the Sahara Desert; the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea; a thousand thanks; a thousand pities.
The thunders bellowed over the wild waste of waters, and were echoed and prolonged by the mountain waves. (Irving.)
Neither the colds of winter nor the heats of summer seemed to have any influence on his bodily health.
6. A number of nouns which express both singular and plural (countables) may with a change of meaning be used only in the singular (thus becoming uncountables). This is the case:
a) When the name of an animal is used to denote its flesh used as food:
I have bought a duck for dinner. – We had duck for dinner. The boy bought a gold fish for his aquarium. – I prefer fish to meat.
b) When the names of trees are used to indicate the corresponding kind of wood as material or as live plants:
An old oak grew in front of the house. The table is made of oak. The path wound sharply and entered a belt of oak.
c) When the nouns tree, bush, twig, etc., do not indicate separate objects but an indivisible whole (compare with the meaning of such nouns as leafage, blossom, brushwood, also with the Russian листва, цвет, кустарник – собирательные существительные):
Walking in a favourite lane to-day, I found it covered with shed blossoms of the hawthorn. – The apple tree was in full blossom. The children found a tiny bird's nest under the bush. – All around them was the great sea of pathless, silent bush. The children carried flowering twigsin their hands. In that early spring a few buds were showing already. – He leaned against one of the satin-smooth stems, under the lacery of twig and bud.
d) When the name of an object is used to denote substance, that is, when it becomes the name of a material:
I had an egg for breakfast. – Egg is on your coat. The ship was driven by the gale upon a rock. – Grass ceases to grow, and the track is almost lost to view among piles of loose rock. At last when it seemed that they could climb no further into the clouds, the road began to fall. – The sun had recently set and the west heaven was hung with rose cloud.
e) There are nouns in English whose form is singular but the meaning is plural: