The Category of Number of English Nouns

Факультет: Иностранных языков

Специальность: Перевод и переводоведение

Курсовая работа

Дисциплина: Теоретическая грамматика

Тема: The Category of Number of English Nouns

Липецк 2009



1. What is Noun?

2. Semantical Characteristics of English Nouns

3. The Category of Number of English Nouns




The theme of my course paper sounds as following: «The number category of English noun ». Before beginning of investigation in our theme, I would like to say some words dealt with the theme of my course paper.

The noun is a word expressing substance in the widest sense of the word. In the concept of substance we include not only names of living beings (e.g. boy, girl, bird) and lifeless things (e.g. table, chair, book), but also names of abstract notions, i.e. qualities, slates, actions (kindness, strength, sleep, fear, conversation, fight), abstracted from their bearers. In speech these types of nouns are treated in different ways, so one, who does not know ways of treatment, can make mistakes in his speech.

Standing on such ground, I would like to point out tasks and aims of my work

1. The first task of my work is to give definition to term «Noun».

2. Second task is to describe main features of English nouns.

3. And the last task is to describe grammatical categories that nouns possesses.

The present course paper consists of four parts: introduction, the main part, conclusion and bibliography. Within the introduction part, which includes two items we gave the brief description of our qualification work (the first item) and gave general notion of the word «noun». The main part of our qualification work includes several items. There we discussed such problems as definition of nouns, main features of English nouns, their grammatical categories. In the conclusion to our qualification work we tried to draw some results from the scientific investigations made within the main part of our qualification work. In bibliography part we mentioned more than 20 sources of which were used while compiling the present work. It includes linguistic books and articles dealing with the theme, a number of used dictionaries and encyclopedias and also some internet sources.

1. What is Noun?

The word «noun» comes from the Latin nomen meaning «name». Word classes like nouns were first described by Sanskrit grammarian Panini and ancient Greeks like Dionysius Thorax, and defined in terms of their morphological properties. For example, in Ancient Greece, nouns can be inflected for grammatical case, such as dative or accusative. Verbs, on the other hand, can be inflected for tenses, such as past, present or future, while nouns cannot. Aristotle also had a notion of onomata (nouns) and rhemata (verbs) which, however, does not exactly correspond our notions of verbs and nouns. In her dissertation, Vinokurova has a more detailed discussion of the historical origin of the notion of a noun.

Expressions of natural language will have properties at different levels. They have formal properties, like what kinds of morphologicalprefixes or suffixes they can take, and what kinds of other expressions they can combine with. but they also have semantic properties, i.e. properties pertaining to their meaning. The definition of nouns on the top of this page is thus a formal definition. That definition is uncontroversial, and has the advantage that it allows us to effectively distinguish nouns from non-nouns. However, it has the disadvandage that it does not apply to nouns in all languages. For example in Russian, there are no definite articles, so one cannot define nouns by means of those. There are also several attempts of defining nouns in terms of their semantic properties. Many of these are controversial, but some are discussed below.

In traditional school grammars, one often encounters the definition of nouns that they are all and only those expressions that refer to a person, place, thing, event, substance, quality, or idea, etc. This is a semantic definition. It has been criticized by contemporary linguists as being quite uninformative. Part of the problem is that the definition makes use of relatively general nouns («thing», «phenomenon», «event») to define what nouns are. The existence of such general nouns shows us that nouns are organized in taxonomic hierarchies. But other kinds of expressions are also organized in hierarchies. For example all of the verbs «stroll», «saunter,» «stride,» and «tread» are more specific words than the more general «walk.» The latter is more specific than the verb «move»/ But it is unlikely that such hierarchies can be used to define nouns and verbs. Furthermore, an influential theory has it that verbs like «kill» or «die» refer to events, and so they fall under the definition. Similarly, adjectives like «yellow» or «difficult» might be thought to refer to qualities, and adverbs like «outside» or «upstairs» seem to refer to places. Worse still, a trip into the woods can be referred to by the verbs «stroll» or «walk»/ But verbs, adjectives and adverbs are not nouns, and nouns aren't verbs. So the definition is not particularly helpful in distinguishing nouns from other parts of speech.

Another semantic definition of nouns is that they are prototypically referential. That definition is also not very helpful in distinguishing actual nouns from verbs. But it may still correctly identify a core property of noun hood. For example, we will tend to use nouns like «fool» and «car» when we wish to refer to fools and cars, respectively. The notion that this is prototypical reflects the fact that such nouns can be used, even though nothing with the corresponding property is referred to:

John is no fool.

If I had a car, I'd go to Marrakech.

The first sentence above doesn't refer to any fools, nor does the second one refer to any particular car.

In most cases in treating English nouns we shall keep to the conception of scientists that we refer to post-structural tendency It's because they combine the ideas of traditional and structural grammarians. The noun is classified into a separate word – group because:

1. they all have the same lexical – grammatical meaning:

substance / thing

2. according to their form – they've two grammatical categories:

number and case

3. they all have typical stem-building elements:

– er, – ist, – ship, – ment, – hood….

4. typical combinability with other words:

most often left-hand combinability.

5. function – the most characteristic feature of nouns is – they can be observed in all syntactic functions but predicate.

From the grammatical point of view most important is the division of nouns into countable and un-countable with regard to the category of number and into declinable and indeclinable with regard to the category of case[1] .

2. Semantical Characteristics of English Nouns

Nouns fall under two classes: (A) proper nouns; (B) common nouns[2] .

a) Proper nouns are individual, names given to separate persons or things. As regards their meaning proper nouns may be personal names (Mary, Peter, Shakespeare), geographical names (Moscow, London, the Caucasus), the names of the months and of the days of the week (February, Monday), names of ships, hotels, clubs, etc.

A large number of nouns now proper were originally common nouns (Brown, Smith, Mason).

Proper nouns may change their meaning and become common nouns:

«George went over to the table and took a sandwich and a glass of champagne. (Aldington)

b) Common nouns are names that can be applied to any individual of ad ass of persons or things (e.g. man, dog, book), collections of similar individuals or things regarded as a single unit (e. g. peasantry, family), materials (e. g. snow, iron, cotton) or abstract notions (e.g. kindness, development).

Thus there are different groups of common nouns: class nouns, collective nouns, nouns of material and abstract nouns.

1. Class nouns denote persons or things belonging to a class. They are countable and have two. numbers: singular and plural. They are generally used with an article.

«Well, sir», said Mrs. Parker, «I wasn't in the shop above a great deal.» (Mansfield)

He goes to the part of the town where the shops are. (Lessing)

2. Collective nouns denote a number or collection of similar individuals or things as a single unit.

Collective nouns fall under the following groups:

(a) nouns used only in the singular and denoting-a number of things collected together and regarded as a single object: foliage, machinery.

It was not restful, that green foliage. (London)

Machinery new to the industry in Australia was introduced for preparing land. (Agricultural Gazette)

(b) nouns which are singular in form though plural in meaning:

police, poultry, cattle, people, gentry They are usually called nouns of multitude. When the subject of the sentence is a noun of multitude the verb used as predicate is in the plural:

I had no idea the police were so devilishly prudent. (Shaw)

Unless cattle are in good condition in calving, milk production will never reach a high level. (Agricultural Gazette)

The weather was warm and the people were sitting at their doors. (Dickens)

(c) nouns that may be both singular and plural: family, crowd, fleet, nation. We can think of a number of crowds, fleets or different nations as well as of a single crowd, fleet, etc.

A small crowd is lined up to see the guests arrive. (Shaw)

Accordingly they were soon afoot, and walking in the direction of the scene of action, towards which crowds of people were already pouring from a variety of quarters. (Dickens)

3. Nouns of material denote material: iron, gold, paper, tea, water. They are uncountable and are generally used without any article.

There was a scent of honey from the lime-trees in flower. (Galsworthy)

There was coffee still in the urn. (Wells)

Nouns of material are used in the plural to denote different sorts of a given material.

… that his senior counted upon him in this enterprise, and had consigned a quantity of select wines to him… (Thackeray)

Nouns of material may turn into class nouns (thus becoming countable) when they come to express an individual object of definite shape.


– To the left were clean panes of glass. (Ch. Bronte)

«He came in here,» said the waiter looking at the light through the tumbler, «ordered a glass of this ale.» (Dickens)

But the person in the glass made a face at her, and Miss Moss went out. (Mansfield).

4. Abstract nouns denote some quality, state, action or idea: kindness, sadness, fight. They are usually uncountable, though some of them may be countable.

Therefore when the youngsters saw that mother looked neither frightened nor offended, they gathered new courage. (Dodge)

Accustomed to John Reed's abuse – I never had an idea of plying it. (Ch. Bronte)

It's these people with fixed ideas. (Galsworthy)

Abstract nouns may change their meaning and become class nouns. This change is marked by the use of the article and of the plural number:

beauty a beauty beauties

sight a sight sights

He was responsive to beauty and here was cause to respond. (London)

She was a beauty. (Dickens)

… but she isn't one of those horrid regular beauties. (Aldington)

3. The Category of Number of English Nouns

The category of number of English nouns is the system of opposites (such as girl – girls, foot – feet, etc.) showing whether the noun stands for one object or more than one, in other words, whether its grammatical meaning is 'oneness' or 'more-than-oneness' of objects.

The connection of the category with the world of material reality, though indirect, is quite transparent. Its meanings reflect the existence of individual objects and groups of objects in the material world.

All number opposites are identical in content: they contain two particular meanings of 'singular' and 'plural' united by the general meaning of the category, that of 'number'. But there is a considerable variety of form in number opposites, though it is not so great as in the Russian language.

An English noun lexeme can contain two number opposites at most (toy – boys, boy's – boys'). Many lexemes have but one oppose me (table – tables) and many others have no opposites at all (ink, news).

In the opposite boy – boys 'singularity' is expressed by a zero morpheme and 'plurality' is marked by the positive morpheme /-z/, in spelling – .s. In other words, the 'singular' member of the opposite is not marked, and the 'plural' member is marked.

In the opposite boy's – boys' both members have positive morphemes –‘s, – s’, but these morphemes can be distinguished only in writing. In the spoken language their forms do not differ, so with regard to each other they are unmarked. They can be distinguished only by their combinability (cf. a boy's head, boys' heads).

In a few noun lexemes of foreign origin both members of a number opposite are marked, e.g. symposium – symposia, genus – genera, phenomenon–phenomena, etc. But in the process of assimilation this peculiarity of foreign nouns gets gradually lost, and instead of medium – media a new opposite develops, medium – mediums; instead of formula – formulae, the usual form now is formula – formulas. In this process, as we see, the foreign grammatical morphemes are neglected as such. The ‘plural’ morpheme is dropped altogether. The 'singular' morpheme becomes part of the stem. Finally, the regular – s ending is added to form the 'plural' opposite. As a result the 'singular' becomes unmarked, as typical of English, and the 'plural' gets its usual mark, the suffix – s.

Since the 'singular' member of a number opposite is not marked, the form of the opposite is, as a rule, determined by the form of the 'plural' morpheme, which, in its turn, depends upon the stem of the lexeme.

In the overwhelming majority of cases the form of the 'plural' morpheme is /-s/, /-z/, or /-z/, in spelling – (e) s, e. g, books, boys, matches.

With the stem ox – the form of the 'plural' morpheme is – en /-n/.

In the opposite man–men the form of the 'plural' morpheme is the vowel change /æ > e/. In woman – women ii is /u > i/, in foot – feet it is /u – i:/, etc.

In child – children the form of the 'plural' morpheme is complicated. It consists of the vowel change /ai > i/ and the suffix – ren.

In sheep – sheep the 'plural' is not marked, thus coinciding in form with the 'singular'. They can be distinguished only by their combinability: ‘one sheep’, ‘five sheep’, ‘a sheep was…’, ‘sheep were…’, ‘this sheep’, ‘these sheep’. The 'plural' coincides in form with the 'singular' also in ‘deer, fish, carp, perch, trout, cod, salmon’, etc.[3]

All the 'plural' forms enumerated here are forms of the same morpheme. This can be proved, as we know, by the identity of the 'plural' meaning, and the complementary distribution of these forms, i.e. the fact that different forms are used with different stems.

As already mentioned [4] , with regard to the category of number English nouns fall into two subclasses: countable and uncountable. The former have number opposites, the latter have not. Uncountable nouns are again subdivided into those having no plural opposites and those having no singular opposites.

Nouns like milk, geometry, self-possession having no plural opposites are usually called by a Latin name – singularia tantum. Nouns like outskirts, clothes, goods having no singular opposites are known as pluralia tantum.

As a matter of fact, those nouns which have no number opposites are outside the grammatical category of number. But on the analogy of the bulk of English nouns they acquire oblique (or lexicon-grammatical) meanings of number. Therefore singularia tantum are often treated as singulars and pluralia tantum as plurals.

This is justified both by their forms and by their combinability.

Cf. This (table, book, milk, love) is…

These (tables, books, clothes, goods) are…

When combinability and form contradict each other, combinability is decisive, which accounts for the fact that ‘police’ or ‘cattle’ are regarded as plurals, and ‘measles’, ‘mathematics as singulars.

The lexicon-grammatical meaning of a class (or of a subclass) of words is, as we know, an abstraction from the lexical meanings of the words of the class, and depends to a certain extent on those lexical meanings. Therefore singularia tantum usually include nouns of certain lexical meanings. They are mostly material, abstract and collective nouns, such as sugar, gold, butter, brilliance, constancy, selfishness, humanity, soldiery, peasantry.

Yet it is not every material, abstract or collective noun that belongs to the group of singularia tantum (e. g. a plastic, a feeling, a crowd) and, what is more important, not in all of its meanings does a noun belong to this group.

As we have already seen[5] , variants of the same lexeme may belong to different subclasses of a part of speech. In most of their meanings the words joy and sorrow as abstract nouns are singularia tantum.

E.g. He has been a good friend both in joy and in sоrгоw. (Horney).

But when concrete manifestations are meant, these nouns are countable and have plural opposites, e. g. the joys and sorrows of life.

Likewise, the words copper, tin, hair as material nouns are usually singularia tantum, but when they denote concrete objects, they become countable and get plural opposites: a copper – coppers, a tin – tins, a hair – hairs.

Similarly, when the nouns wine, steel, salt denote some sort or variety of the substance, they become countable.

E.g. an expensive wine – expensive wines.

All such cases are not a peculiarity of the English language alone. They are found in other languages as well. Cf. дерево – деревья and дерево.is a material noun, платье – платья and платье as a collective noun.

‘Joy’ and ‘a joy’, ‘beauty’ and ‘a beauty’, ‘copper’ and ‘a copper’, ‘hair’ and ‘a hair’ and many other pairs of this kind are not homonyms, as suggested by some grammarians[6] , but variants of lexemes related by internal conversion.

If all such cases were regarded as homonyms, the number of homonyms in the English language would be practically limitless. If only some of them were treated as homonyms, that would give rise to uncontrolled subjectivity.

The group of pluralia tantum is mostly composed of nouns denoting objects consisting of two or more parts, complex phenomena or ceremonies, e. g. tongs, pincers, trousers, nuptials, obsequies. Here also belong some nouns with a distinct collective or material meaning, e.g. clothes, eaves, sweets.

Since in these words the – s suffix does not function as a grammatical morpheme, it gets lexicalized and develops into an inseparable part of the stem [7] . This, probably, underlies the fact that such nouns as mathematics, optics, linguistics, mumps, measles are treated as singularia tantum.

Nouns like police, militia, cattle, poultry are pluralia tantum, judging by their combinability, though not by form [8] .

People in the meaning of «народ» is a countable noun. In the meaning of «люди» it belongs to the pluralia tantum. Family in the sense of «a group of people who are related» is a countable noun. In the meaning of «individual members of this group» it belongs to the pluralia tantum. Thus, the lexeme family has two variants:

Sg. PL

1) family families

2) – family

E. g. Almost every family in the village has sent a man to the army. (Horney).

Those were the oldest families in Jorkshire. (Black).

Her family were of a delicate constitution. (Bronte).

Similar variants are observed in the lexemes committee, government, board, crew, etc.

Colour in the meaning «red, green, blue, etc». is a countable noun. In the meaning «appearance of reality or truth» (e. g. His torn clothes gave colour to his story that lie had been attacked by robbers. A. Horney.) it has no plural opposite and belongs to the singularia tantum. Colours in the sense of «materials used by painters and artists» has no singular opposite and belongs to the pluralia tantum.

Thus, the lexeme has three variants:

Sg. Pl.

1) colour colours

2) colour –

3) – colours.

When grammarians write that the lexical meanings of some plurals differ from those of their singular opposites [9] , they simply compare different variants of a lexeme.

Sometimes variants of a lexeme may belong to the same lexico-grammatical subclass and yet have different forms of number opposemes.

Cf. brother (son of same parents) – brothers

brother (fellow member) – brethren

fish – fish (e.g. I caught five fish yesterday.)

fish – fishes ('different species', e. g. ocean fishes).

A collective noun is a word that designates a group of objects or beings regarded as a whole, such as «flock», «team», or «corporation». Although many languages treat collective nouns as singular, in others they may be interpreted as plural. In British English, phrases such as the committee are meeting are common (the so-called agreement in sensu «in meaning», that is, with the meaning of a noun, rather than with its form). The use of this type of construction varies with dialect and level of formality.

All languages are able to specify the quantity of referents. They may do so by lexical means with words such as English a few, some, one, two, five hundred. However, not every language has a grammatical category of number. Grammatical number is expressed by morphological and/or syntactic means. That is, it is indicated by certain grammatical elements, such as through affixes or number words. Grammatical number may be thought of as the indication of semantic number through grammar.

Languages that express quantity only by lexical means lack a grammatical category of number. For instance, in Khmer, neither nouns nor verbs carry any grammatical information concerning number: such information can only be conveyed by lexical items such as khlah 'some', pii-bey 'a few', and so on.

Most languages of the world have formal means to express differences of number. The most widespread distinction, as found in English and many other languages, involves a simple two-way number contrast between singular and plural (car / cars; child / children, etc.). Other more elaborate systems of number are described below.

The semantic nature of the difference between singular and plural may present some difficulties of interpretation.

On the surface of semantic relations, the meaning of the singular will be understood as simply "one", as opposed to the meaning of the plural as "many" in the sense of "more than one". This is apparently obvious for such correlations as book books, lake lakes and the like. However, alongside of these semantically unequivocal correlations, there exist plurals and singulars that cannot be fully accounted for by the above ready-made approach. This becomes clear when we take for comparison such forms as tear (one drop falling from the eye) and tears (treacles on the cheeks as tokens of grief or joy), potato (one item of the vegetables) and potatoes (food), paper (material) and papers (notes or documents), sky (the vault of heaven) and skies (the same sky taken as a direct or figurative background), etc. As a result of the comparison we conclude that the broader sememic mark of the plural, or "plurality" in the grammatical sense, should be described as the potentially dismembering reflection of the structure of the referent, while the sememic mark of the singular will be understood as the non-dismembering reflection of the structure of the referent, i.e. the presentation of the referent in its indivisible entireness.

It is sometimes stated that the plural form indiscriminately presents both multiplicity of separate objects ("discrete" plural, e.g. three houses) and multiplicity of units of measure for an indivisible object ("plural of measure", e.g. three hours) [Ilyish, 36 ff.]. However, the difference here lies not in the content of the plural as such, but in the quality of the objects themselves. Actually, the singulars of the respective nouns differ from one another exactly on the same lines as the plurals do {cf. one house one hour).

On the other hand, there are semantic varieties of the plural forms that differ from one another in their plural quality as such. Some distinctions of this kind were shown above. Some further distinctions may be seen in a variety of other cases. Here belong, for example, cases where the plural form expresses a definite set of objects {eyes of the face, wheels of the vehicle, etc.), various types of the referent {wines, tees, steels), intensity of the presentation of the idea {years and years, thousands upon thousands), picturesqueness {sands, waters, snows). The extreme point of this semantic scale is marked by the lexicalisation of the plural form, i.e. by its serving as a means of rendering not specificational, but purely notional difference in meaning. Cf. colours as a "flag", attentions as "wooing", pains as "effort", quarters as "abode", etc.

The scope of the semantic differences of the plural forms might pose before the observer a question whether the category of number is a variable grammatical category at all.

The answer to the question, though, doesn't leave space or any uncertainty: the category of number is one of the regular variable categories in the grammatical system of he English language. The variability of the category is simply given in its form, i.e. in the forms of the bulk of English nouns which do distinguish it by means of the described binary paradigm. As for the differences in meaning, these arise from the interaction between the underlying oppositional sememic marks of the category and the more concrete lexical differences in the semantics of individual words.

The most general quantitative characteristics of individual words constitute the lexico-grammatical base for dividing the nounal vocabulary as a whole into countable nouns and uncountable nouns. The constant categorial feature "quantitative structure" (see Ch. V, §3) is directly connected with the variable feature "number", since uncountable nouns are treated grammatically as either singular or plural. Namely, the singular uncountable nouns are modified by the non-discrete quantifiers much or little, and they take the finite verb in the singular, while the plural uncountable nouns take the finite verb in the plural.

The two subclasses of uncountable nouns are usually referred to, respectively, as singularia tantum (only singular) and pluralia tantum (only plural). In terms of oppositions we may say that in the formation of the two subclasses of uncountable nouns the number opposition is "constantly" (lexically) reduced either to the weak member (singularia tantum) or to the strong member (pluralia tantum).

Since the grammatical form of the uncountable nouns of the singularia tantum subclass is not excluded from the category of number, it stands to reason to speak of it as the "absolute" singular, as different from the "correlative" or "common" singular of the countable nouns. The absolute singular excludes the use of the modifying numeral one, as well as the indefinite article.

The absolute singular is characteristic of the names of abstract notions {peace, love, joy, courage, friendship, etc.), the names of the branches of professional activity {chemistry, architecture, mathematics, linguistics, etc.), the names of mass-materials {water, snow, steel, hair, etc.), the names of collective inanimate objects {foliage, fruit, furniture, machinery, etc.). Some of these words can be used in the form of the common singular with the common plural counterpart, but in this case they come to mean either different sorts of materials, or separate concrete manifestations of the qualities denoted by abstract nouns, or concrete objects exhibiting the respective qualities. Cf.:

Joy is absolutely necessary for normal human life.— It was a joy to see her among us. Helmets for motor-cycling are nowadays made of plastics instead of steel. — Using different modifications of the described method, super-strong steels are produced for various purposes.

The lexicalising effect of the correlative number forms (both singular and plural) in such cases is evident, since the categorial component of the referential meaning in each of them is changed from uncountability to countability. Thus, the oppositional reduction is here nullified in a peculiarly lexicalising way, and the full oppositional force of the category of number is rehabilitated.

Common number with uncountable singular nouns can also be expressed by means of combining them with words showing discreteness, such as bit, piece, item, sort. Cf.:

The last two items of news were quite sensational. Now I'd like to add one more bit of information. You might as well dispense with one or two pieces of furniture in the hall.

This kind of rendering the grammatical meaning of common number with uncountable nouns is, in due situational conditions, so regular that it can be regarded as special suppletivity in the categorial system of number (see Ch. III, §4).

On the other hand, the absolute singular, by way of functional oppositional reduction, can be used with countable nouns. In such cases the nouns are taken to express either the corresponding abstract ideas, or else the meaning of some mass-material correlated with its countable referent. Cf.:

Waltz is a lovely dance. There was dead desert all around them. The refugees needed shelter. Have we got chicken for the second course?

Under this heading (namely, the first of the above two subpoints) comes also the generic use of the singular. Cf.:

Man's immortality lies in his deeds. Wild elephant in the Jungle can be very dangerous.

In the sphere of the plural, likewise, we must recognise the common plural form as the regular feature of countability, and the absolute plural form peculiar to the uncountable subclass of pluralia tantum nouns. The absolute plural, as different from the common plural, cannot directly combine with numerals, and only occasionally does it combine with discrete quantifiers (many, few, etc.).

The absolute plural is characteristic of the uncountable nouns which denote objects consisting of two halves (trousers, scissors, tongs, spectacles, etc.), the nouns expressing some sort of collective meaning, i.e. rendering the idea of indefinite plurality, both concrete and abstract (supplies, outskirts, clothes, parings; tidings, earnings, contents, politics; police, cattle, poultry, etc.), the nouns denoting some diseases as well as some abnormal states of the body and mind (measles, rickets, mumps, creeps, hysterics, etc.). As is seen from the examples, from the point of view of number as such, the absolute plural forms can be divided into set absolute plural (objects of two halves) and non-set absolute plural (the rest).

The set plural can also be distinguished among the common plural forms, namely, with nouns denoting fixed sets of objects, such as eyes of the face, legs of the body, legs of the table, wheels of the vehicle, funnels of the steamboat, windows of the room, etc.

The necessity of expressing definite numbers in cases of uncountable pluralia tantum nouns, as well as in cases of countable nouns denoting objects in fixed sets, has brought about different suppletive combinations specific to the plural form of the noun, which exist alongside of the suppletive combinations specific to the singular form of the noun shown above. Here belong collocations with such words as pair, set, group, bunch and some others. Cf.: a pair of pincers; three pairs of bathing trunks; a few groups of police; two sets of dice; several cases of measles; etc.

The absolute plural, by way of functional oppositional reduction, can be represented in countable nouns having the form of the singular, in uncountable nouns having the form of the plural, and also in countable nouns having the form of the plural.

The first type of reduction, consisting in the use of the absolute plural with countable nouns in the singular form, concerns collective nouns, which are thereby changed into "nouns of multitude". Cf.:

The family were gathered round the table. The government are unanimous in disapproving the move of the opposition.

This form of the absolute plural may be called "multitude plural".

The second type of the described oppositional reduction, consisting in the use of the absolute plural with uncountable nouns in the plural form, concerns cases of stylistic marking of nouns. Thus, the oppositional reduction results in expressive transposition. Cf.: the sands of the desert; the snows of the Arctic; the waters of the ocean; the fruits of the toil; etc,

This variety of the absolute plural may be called "descriptive uncountable plural".

The third type of oppositional reduction concerns common countable nouns used in repetition groups. The acquired implication is indefinitely large quantity intensely presented. The nouns in repetition groups may themselves be used either in the plural ("featured" form) or in the singular ("unfeatured" form). Cf.:

There were trees and trees all around us. I lit cigarette after cigarette.

This variety of the absolute plural may be called "repetition plural". It can be considered as a peculiar analytical form in the marginal sphere of the category of number.

As already mentioned, plural and singular nouns stand in contrast as diametrically opposite. Instances are not few, however, when their opposition comes to be neutralised. And this is to say that there are cases when the numeric differentiation appears to be of no importance at all. Here belong many collective abstract and material nouns. If, for instance, we look at the meaning of collective nouns, we cannot fail to see that they denote at the same time a plurality and a unit. They may be said to be doubly countables and thus from a logical point of view form the exact contrast to mass nouns: they are, in fact, at the same time singular and plural, while mass words are logically neither. The double-sidedness of collective nouns weakens the opposition and leads to the development of either Pluralia tantum, as in: weeds (in a garden), ashes, embers, etc., or Singularia tantum, as in: wildfowl, clergy, foliage, etc.

ComparetheUkrainian: кучері, гроші, дріжджі, сходи, зелень, листя, дичина. SimilarlyinRussian: дрожжи, деньги, кудри, всходы, листва, дичь, зелень. German: Eltern, Geschwister, Zwillinge — Pluralia tantum; das Geflügel, das Wild, das Obst — Singularia tantum. Similar developments may be traced in French: les pois, les épinards, les asperges.

In some cases usage fluctuates, and the two forms are interchangeable, e. g. brain or brains: he has no brains or little brains; victuals is more common than victual; oats than oat; similarly: His wages were high. How much wages does he get? That is a fair wage. They could not take too much pains.

The dual nature of collective nouns is shown linguistically in various ways: by the number of the verb or by the pronoun referring to it, as for instance, My family are early risers, they are already here. Cf. My family is not large.

It is important to observe that the choice between singular and plural depends on the meaning attached to the noun. Compare also: We have much fruit this year and The rich fruits of the heroic labour of Soviet people are visible from all the corners of the earth.

Similarly: The football team is playing very well. Cf. The football team are having bath and are coming back here for tea.

A word should be said about stylistic transpositions of singular nouns in cases like the following: trees in leaf, to have a keen eye, blue of eye, strong of muscle. Patterns of this kind will exemplify synecdoche — the simplest case of metonymy in grammar ("pars pro toto").

The Germans won the victories. By God they were soldiers. The Old Hun was a soldier. But they were cooked too. They were all cooked... The Hun would come down through the Trentino, and cut the railway at the Vicenza and then where would the Italians be? (Hemingway)

The chap was so big now that he was there nearly all his time, like some immovable, sardonic, humorous eye nothing to decline of men and things. (Galsworthy)

Cf . Держи вухо востро. Держи ухо остро. У него наметанный глаз. И слышно было до рассвета, как ликовал француз. (Лермонтов)

Other "universals" in expressing plurality will be found in what may be called "augmentative" plurals, i. e. when the plural forms of material nouns are used to denote large amounts of substance, or a high degree of something. This is often the case when we see the matter as it exists in nature. Such plural forms are often used for stylistic purposes in literary prose and poetry,e. g.: the blue waters of the Mediterranean, the sands of the Sahara Desert, the snows of Kilimanjaro.

SimilarlyinRussian: синие воды Средиземного моря, пески Сахары, снега Арктики.

Еще в полях белеет снег,

А воды уж весной шумят. (Тютчев)

Люблю ее степей алмазные снега. (Фет)

Ukrainian: Сині води Середземного моря, піски Сахари, сніги Арктики.

Cf. French: les eaux, les sables;

German: die Sände, die Wässer.

Attention must also be drawn to the emotive use of plural forms of abstract verbal nouns in pictorial language: was a thousand pities he had run off with that foreign girl a governess too! (Galsworthy)

The look on her face, such as he had never seen there before, such as she had always hidden from him was full of secret resentments, and longings, and fears. (Mitchell)

The peculiar look came into Bosinney's face which marked all his enthusiasms. (Galsworthy)

Her face was white and strained but her eyes were steady and sweet and full of pity and unbelief. There was a luminous serenity in them and the innocence in the soft brown depths struck him like a blow in the face, clearing some of the alcohol out of his brain, halting his mad, careering words in mod-flight. (Mitchell)

He stood for a moment looking down at the plain, heart-shaped face with its long window's peak and serious dark eyes. Such an unwordly face, a face with no defenses against life. (Mitchell)

Oh! Wilfrid has emotions, hates, pities, wants; at least, sometimes; when he does, his stuff is jolly good. Otherwise, he just makes a song about nothing like the rest. (Galsworthy)

It should be noted, in passing, that the plural form is sometimes used not only for emphasis in pictorial language but to intensify the aspective meaning of the verb, the iterative character of the action, in particular, e. g.:

Oh, this was just the kind of trouble she had feared would come upon them. All the work of this last year would go for nothing. All her struggles and fears and labours in rain and cold had been wasted. (Mitchell)

Relentless and stealthy, the butler pursued his labours taking things from the various compartments of the sideboard. (Galsworthy)

The small moon had soon dropped down, and May night had failed soft and warm, enwrapping with its grape-bloom colour and its scents the billion caprices, intrigues, passions, longings, and regrets of men and women. (Galsworthy)

The emotive use of proper nouns in plural is also an effective means of expressive connotation, e. g.:

Fleur, leaning out of her window, heard the hall clock's muffled chime of twelve, the tiny splash of a fish, the sudden shaking of an aspen's leaves in the puffs of breeze that rose along the river, the distant rumble of a night train, and time and again the sounds which none can put a name to in the darkness, soft obscure expressions of uncatalogued emotions from man and beast, bird and machine, or, may be, from departed Forsytes, Darties, Cardigans, taking night strolls back into a world which had once suited their embodied spirits. (Galsworthy)

Expressive connotation is particularly strong in the metaphoric use of the plural of nouns denoting things to be considered unique, e. g.: Ahead of them was a tunnel of fire where buildings were blazing on either side of the short, narrow street that led down to the railroad tracks. They plunged into it. A glare brighter than a dozen suns dazzled their eyes, scroching heat seared their skins and the roaring, crackling and crashing beat upon ears in painful waves. (Mitchell)

Compare the following example in French:

Leon: ...Quelquefois... j'y reste... a regarder le soleil couchant.

Emma: Je ne trouve rien d'admirable commeles soleils couchants... mais аи bord de la mer, surtout. 1

Very often the plural form, besides its specific meaning may also retain the exact meaning of the singular, which results in homonymy.

1) custom = habit, customs = 1) plural of habit

2) duties

2) colour = tint, colours = 1) plural of tint

2) flag

3) effect = result, effects = 1) results

2) goods and chattels

4) manner = mode or way, manners = 1) modes, ways

2) behaviour

5) number = a total amount of units, numbers = 1) in counting

2) poetry

6) pain = suffering, pains = 1) plural of suffering

2) effort

7) premise = a statement or proposition, premises =


2)surrounding to a house

8) quarter = a fourth part, quarters = 1) fourth parts

2) lodgings There are also double plurals used with some difference of meanings:

1) brother 1) brothers (sons of one mother)

2) brethren (members of one community)

2) genius 1) geniuses (men of genius)

2) genii (spirits)

3) cloth 1) cloths (kinds of cloth)

2) clothes (articles of dress)

4) index 1) indexes (tables of contents)

2) indices (in mathematics)

Double plurals with the differentiation of meaning will be found in other languages.


зуб —

1) зуби

2) зуб'я

лист —

1) листя

2) листи

Cf . Russian:

зуб — 1) зубы (во рту)

2) зубья (пилы) лист —

1) листья (дерева)

2) листы (бумаги, железа) муж — 1) мужья

2) мужи («ученые мужи») тон — 1) тона (оттенки)

2) тоны( звуки ) There are some plurals which have been borrowed from foreign nouns:

Singular Plural
agendum agenda
datum data
dictum dicta
erratum errata
memorandum memoranda
medium media
stratum strata
focus foci
formula formulae
fungus fungi
genus genera
axis axes
appendix appendices
series series
species species
Singular Plural
analysis analyses
basis bases
crisis crises
hypothesis hypotheses
parenthesis parentheses
thesis theses
phenomenon phenomena
criterion criteria
Singular Plural
beau beaux (or beaus)
bureau bureaux
monsieur messieurs
madame mesdames

Mention should be made in this connection of nouns which have two parallel variants in the plural exactly alike in function but different in their stylistic sphere of application, e. g.:

cow cows and kine (arch., now chiefly poetic)

foe foes and fone (arch.)

shoe shoes and shoen (arch.)

Unproductive archaic elements are sometimes used to create the atmosphere of elevated speech. This may also be traced in other languages. Compare the Russian:

сын — 1) сыновья, сыновей;

2) сыны, сынов (e. g.: сыны отечества).

Morphological variation will be found in nouns foreign in origin. Through the natural process of assimilation some borrowed nouns have developed parallel native forms, as in:

formula formulae, formulas terminus termini, terminuses focus foci, focuses stratum strata, stratums

Foreign plurals are decidedly more bookish than the native ones.

For all the details concerning the grammatical organisation of nouns and their patterning in different kind of structures students are referred to the text-books on English grammar. Two things should be noted here.

It is important to observe that in certain contexts nouns can weaken their meaning of "substance" and approach adjectives thus making the idea of qualities of the given substance predominantin the speaker's mind. Nouns functioning in this position are generally modified by adverbials of degree, e. g.:

"You were always more of a realist than Jon; and never so innocent". (Galsworthy)

"We're all fond of you" , he said, "If you'd only" he was going to say, "behave yourself" , but changed it to — "if you'd only be more of a wife to him". (Galsworthy)

"Why had he ever been fool enough to see her again" . (Galsworthy)

"Not much of an animal, is it?" groaned Rhett. "Looks like he'll die. But he is the best I could find in the shafts" . (Mitchell)

The use of a noun rather than an adjective is very often preferred as a more forcible expressive means to intensify the given quality. Compare the following synonymic forms of expression:

He was quite a success.He was quite successful.

It was good fun.It was funny.

And here are illustrative examples of nouns weakening their meaning of "substance" and approaching adverbs.

Such adverbial use shows great diversity. Deep-rooted in English grammar, this use is most idiosyncratic in its nature. We find here patterns of different structural meaning:

a) adverbial relations of time, as in: life long, week long, age long, etc.;

b)adverbial relations of comparison: straw yellow, silver grey, ash blond, ice cold, snow white, iron hard, sky blue, dog tired, paper white, pencil thin, ruler straight, primrose yellow, brick red, blade sharp;

c) different degree of quality: mountains high, a bit longer, a trifle easier, a shade darker, ankle deep.

Patterns of this kind are generally used metaphorically and function as expedients to express intensity and emphasis, e. g.: "I'll send Pork to Macon to-morrow to buy more seed. Now the Yankies won't burn it and our troops won't need it. Good Lord, cotton ought to go sky high this fall". (Mitchell)

Further examples are:

He is world too modest. That was lots better . This was heaps better. He was stone deaf to our request. Waves went mountains high. The mud was ankle deep.

Adverbial use of nouns will also be found in such premodification structures as: bone tired, dog tired, mustard coloured, horror struck, etc.

In the grammar of nouns there have also developed interjectional uses which seem to convert nouns into special kind of "intensifiers", e. g.: What the dickens do you want? What the mischief do you want?

Further examples are:

The hell you say = you don't say so.

Like hell Iwish \

I will like hell / I will not

Where in the hell you are going?

How the devil should I know?

Adverbs of affirmation and negation yes and no are intensified in emphasis by the proximity of a bald bawling hell, e. g.: Hell, yes! Hell, no!

In the conclusion of my work, I would like to say some words according the done investigation.

The main part of my work consists of following items:

· «What is Noun»?, as it is seen from the title in this part I gave the definition to the term noun.

· «Semantical Characteristics of Nouns» In this chapter I characterized English nouns from due their semantical meaning.

· «Category of Number». In this part I gave the definition to the category of number of English nouns, described different types of numbers of nouns in English

Standing on such ground I will add that investigation in the questions dealt with English adjectives is not finished yet, so we will continue it while writing our qualification work.

I hope that my course paper will arise the sincere interest of students and teachers to the problem of adjectives in contemporary English.


1. B. Ilyish, The Structure of Modern English.

2. V.N. Zhigadlo, I.P. Ivanova, L.L. Iofik.» Modern English language» (Theoretical course grammar) Moscow, 1956 y.

3. Gordon E.M. The Use of adjectives in modern English.

4. М.М. Галинская. «Иностранные языки в высшей школе», вып. 3, М., 1964.

5. Г.Н. Воронцова. Очерки по грамматике английского языка. М., 1960

6. O. Jespersen. Essentials of English Grammar. N.Y., 1938

7. Иванова И.П., Бурлакова В.В., Почепцов Г.Г. Теоретическая грамматика современного английского языка. – М., 1981. – 285 c.

8. Ch. Barber. Linguistic change in Present-Day English. Edinburgh, 1964

9. The Structure of American English. New York, 1958.

10. World Book Encyclopedia Vol.1 NY. 1993 pp.298–299

11. Internet

12. Internet

13. Internet:

14. Inbternet:

[1] В.Л. Каушанская и др. Грамматика английского языка (на английском языке). 1973 стр.22

[2] The word proper is from Lat. proprius 'one's own'. Hence a proper name means one's own individual name, as distinct from a common name, that can be given to a class of individuals. The name common is from Lat. communes and means that winch is shared by several things or individuals possessing some common characteristic

[3] G.O. Curme. Syntax. Bost., N.Y., Lnd., Heat., 1931, p. 542;

O. Jespersen. Essentials of English Grammar. N.Y., 1938, p. 201

[4] B.S. Khaimovich, B.I. Rogovskaya. A Course in English Grammar. 1966 p. 48

[5] B.S. Khaimovich, B.I. Rogovskaya. A Course in English Grammar. 1966 p. 49

[6] Л.С. Бархударов, Д.А. Штелинг. Грамматика английского языка. М., 1960, р. 35

[7] Л. С. Бархударов, Д. А. Штелинг, ор. cit., р. 36.

[8] О. Jespersen. Essentials of English Grammar. Lnd., 1943, p. 208.

[9] B. Н. Жигадло, И. П. Иванова, Л. Л. Иофик, ор. cit., р. 30.


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