What are mass nouns?

a guide to mass nouns

Mass nouns, also called “uncountable nouns”  and “noncount nouns,” are substances, objects, and concepts that cannot be divided into separate parts. By their nature, they can only be plural.

Think about emotions. Let’s take happiness, for instance. Happiness exists as a general idea. You can’t break happiness down into its particles. You cannot hold in your hand one happiness or two happinesses. Thus, it is a mass noun.

The same goes with “sand.” There are beaches filled with sand, but you can’t find one sand. However, you can dig your hand into the ground and come up with grains of sand. This illustrates one of the rules with mass nouns.

You explain how much of a mass noun exists by placing a describing word in front of it.

  • a grain of sand
  • a piece of news
  • a gallon of water

Another rule is that English treats mass nouns as if they were singular, even though they are plural. For instance, instead of using the verb “are,” use “is.”

Correct: This juice is delicious.
Incorrect: This juice are delicious
Correct: Greed is dangerous.
Incorrect: Greed are dangerous

And if a verb drops an “s” with plural nouns, it will keep the “s” for mass nouns.

Correct: The cheese tastes yummy.
Incorrect: The cheese taste yummy
Correct: Your jewelry looks expensive.
Incorrect: Your jewelry look expensive.

Types of Mass Nouns
Here are some of the categories mass nouns fall into with examples:

  • weather: rain, snow, sleet, sunshine
  • feelings: anger, happiness, fear, courage
  • liquids: orange juice, tea, water
  • gasses: air, helium, argon
  • states of existence: childhood, sleep, sickness
  • ideas: advice, motivation, existentialism
  • powder: flour, makeup powder, powdered sugar
  • foods: cheese, rice, pudding, butter

Other Examples

  • traffic
  • art
  • chaos
  • currency
  • education
  • furniture
  • information
  • luggage
  • marketing
  • livestock
  • music
  • patriotism
  • power
  • wood

Erin Servais is a book editor, author coach, and founder of Dot and Dash LLC, an author-services company that focuses on women author-entrepreneurs. To learn how she can help you with your next writing project, check out her website.

You can also read her blog about writing here.

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Is It Handfull or Handful?

One of the ways we use the suffix –ful is to explain how much of something exists somewhere. Or, as my go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster, puts it:

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 4.43.10 PM

This means in our question of “Is it handfull or handful?” the answer is handful with one L.

However, as you can see in the dictionary’s example, handful isn’t the only use of this suffix. Basically, anything that can hold something can get the –ful suffix.

For example:

roomful can hold people
bucketful can hold apples
eyeful can hold beautiful visions
oceanful can hold fish
glassful can hold juice
pocketful can hold tiny treasures
spaceshipful can hold aliens

You get the gist. Now here’s how they work in sentences:

The kitten held out a pawful of jewels to its human.
Frida unleashed a brainful of magical powers onto the bad guys.
The lizard discovered a desertful of hot sand and rocks to enjoy.

Now go forth and use your –ful suffix with vigor.

Erin Servais is a freelance copy editor who can turn your writing from phlegm to gem. Learn how you can hire her today.

Hanger vs. Hangar

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This spooky aircraft rests in a hangar when it is not flying in super secret missions.

A hangar is an enclosed shelter used to house something, such as airplanes.

A common mistake is to misspell hangar with an E.

However, a hanger is the item used to hang things, such as clothes.

Examples:

  • Jim Bob piloted the mysterious, abandoned UFO into the hangar.
  • Cathy arranged her clothes hangers evenly in her closet.
  • The billionaire’s hangar held both his jet and his helicopter.
  • The driver used a bent hanger to coax the locked car door open.

 

Erin Servais is a book editor who enjoys teaching writers along the way. To learn about hiring her for your next project, please visit her website: Dot and Dash LLC.

Courage vs. bravery

Last time we talked about the word hero—what it means and what it takes to be one. In this post, we’re discussing two words that are often connected to heroism: courage and bravery.

Today the words are used interchangeably, but a look to their history reveals an important difference.

First let’s look at current definitions.

Bravery is the “quality or state of being brave,” and Merriam-Webster, in its unabridged online version, defines brave as “resolute in facing odds; able to meet danger or endure pain or hardship without giving in to fear.” The unabridged dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength enabling one to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty firmly and resolutely.”

It’s worth noting that here Merriam-Webster also defines brave as “having or showing courage.”

Etymology
The current definitions are very similar. Yet, when we look at how courage and bravery came into the English language, a distinction shows.

Merriam-Webster notes that courage is linked historically to cœur, the French word for heart. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning “brave, bold.” Bravo, interestingly enough, originally meant “wild, savage,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Meaning
There is a quote that goes “The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.”

That’s the main takeaway when you consider the etymology. Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Bravery can be dangerously close to stupidity, to wild and savage.

Courage, however, takes something deeper. It takes heart. Courage is donating a kidney to your sister because you love her so deeply. Courage is a doctor or a nurse choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because they want to relieve human suffering.

Bravery is eating an earthworm sandwich because your buddy dared you.

What do you think?
Is there a difference between courage and bravery? Or should we use them interchangeably? Let me know in the comments.

Erin Servais is a freelance copywriter and copy editor. She’d love to hear about your new project. Learn how to hire her by going to dotanddashllc.com.