Business Writing

Talk, tips, and best picks for writers on the job.

Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Share this page

« Make Your Writing Dreams Come True | Main | What You Must Know About "All Told" and "All Tolled" »

January 19, 2011


Penny McKinlay

Equipment has no plural form.

Mai Yahn



No offense. I think the beginning sentence of this article would be better if the latter half were cut out, unless such problem only harasses people from China.

Dala Beld

Lynne, all of the words you mention are among those that most English as a second language (ESL)textbooks call uncountable (or non-count) nouns. You can locate lists of them by Googling "list uncountable nouns English." The matter is further complicated by nouns, such as stone, which can be either countable or uncountable!

I hope that I don´t spoil the fun by suggesting the ready-made lists!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Penny and Mai, thanks for your additions to the list.

Dala, thank you for your wise, practical counsel. I did as you suggested and indeed found ready-made lists. So I will suggest those to my client. The only slight problem with the ready-made list is that at least 10 percent of the nouns can also be plural in certain contexts--for example, accommodations, works, experiences, foods.

Sapphire, why would the sentence be better without the mention that my client speaks Chinese? Or is it the sentence structure that concerns you?

Thanks to all.


Lester Smith

Here's where my literary/poetic sensibilities come up against a desire to regulate language. It isn't unreasonable to say "knowledges," as in Peter Worsley's "Knowledges: Culture, Counterculture, Subculture" or Laurel Brake's "Subjugated Knowledges: Journalism, Gender, and Literature in the 19Th Century." We have to remember that language is a living thing; grammar can describe it, but not enslave it.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Les, I appreciate the poet in you! Thank you for your example.




R. Selvaraju

Crew (a collective noun). Scenery.

Is it gratefulness or gratitude?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary lists gratefulness as obsolete.

Paula Diaco

Hi Lynn,

Don't forget shrimp!


Jerry E. Stephens

Is it really accurate to say that mass nouns are nouns without a plural form. Or, could you say that these are nouns which have both a singular and a plural form. But one where the usual rules of plural noun formation don't apply. It would seem, therefore,that the mass noun contains within itself the understanding that the noun may mean one of an item or more than one. "Insurance" is "insurance" in either the singular or the plural.

Diane Ramey

moose - although she may never have cause to use that one! Isn't English fun?!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks, everyone, for your input. I appreciate all the comments.

I need to clarify that mass nouns are nouns without a plural form. So "moose," "sheep," and "shrimp" are actually not mass nouns. All those words can be used as both singular and plural forms:

--The moose is/are moving south.
--The sheep is/are ready to be sheared.
--The shrimp is/are delicious.

Regarding "shrimp," my dictionaries offer both "shrimp" and "shrimps" as plurals, so it is more complicated than we may have thought.

"Crew," a collective noun, does have a plural:

--The crews are competing for the prize.

Yes, "scenery" is an example of a mass noun.

Jerry, mass nouns cannot be used with plural verbs. We cannot say "The insurance are" or "The equipment were." The words are singular in form even though a word like "jewelry" may include many pieces of jewelry. I believe you are making a similar point.

Thank you all for taking the time to share your ideas. Yes, English is fun.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

R. Selvaraju, thanks for asking about "gratefulness." It appears in both of my current U.S. dictionaries. It also appears in my "Canadian Oxford Dictionary." Interestingly, in that volume I see in brackets information about the etymology of the word, which includes the word "obsolete." That word applies to "grate," which is now obsolete as an adjective.

You may want to see whether "Concise Oxford" is using the same approach, with the etymology in brackets.


Bob Wiyadabebe-Iytsaboi

Right there in your closing paragraph is another good one- "help".

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks, Bob. You are right.


Elaine Smith

Advice. It can be plural in Russian. A Russian woman I know says, "Let me give you some advices."

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Elaine, "advice" is an excellent addition to our list.

Thank you!


Maharshi Upadhyaya


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Maharshi, thank you for your suggestion. I have actually heard people use the noun "trainings," but it has always sounded odd to me. Here is an example: "I led four trainings this week."




Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Aspirin--that's a good one.





Staff. I get so mad hearing people say 'Staffs'. Also, 'Initiative' has no plural form.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Sandy. Please don't get mad about "staffs." If you hear it, people may be intending the possessive form: "The staff's preference is to leave early."

But the word "staff" meaning "team members" or "employees" does have a plural form: "The two staffs met to discuss how they would work together."

For "initiative" I assume you are thinking of the initiative that is a characteristic, as in "She takes initiative." You are correct in objecting to a plural form of that usage.

However, when "initiative" means "project," it does have a plural form: "The two initiatives have not been included in the budget."

It's too bad that you have to hear incorrect plurals. Is there an opportunity for you to teach people the correct words?


preshita parihar


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Preshita. Thanks for your suggestions. Those are not actually nouns without a plural form. Those are nouns whose plural form is the same as its singular form.

Examples: One deer, two deer. One trout, two trout.

But we can't say two furnitures or two informations.

I hope that makes sense.




Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Dan. "Fish" is not a word without a plural form. The word can be both singular and plural. Also, there is the plural form "fishes."



Although some have no plural form as a single word, its plural form can be expressed in two words, ex. Pieces of evidence, school of fish

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Chippy. "Fish" can be singular or plural:

The fish are biting.
That fish is fighting to free itself.

Thanks for stopping by.



i love that you reply to each comment, makes us know which is actually correct. thanks



Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Good one, Charlotte!


Joey R

i would 'advise' you to have your 'bread' before going to 'work'. good 'luck'!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Joey. I believe you are pointing out other words without plurals. Am I correct?

Actually both "breads" and "works" can be plural:

"These breads sell well."
"These works of art take my breath away."

However, "luck" does not have a plural. Good one!





staff and luggage

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Preety. "Hairs" is possible, as in this example:

--Several hairs got stuck in the machine, and we had to cut them off.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Vanessa. "Luggage" does not have a plural, but "staffs" is possible:

--The two staffs met to decide how they would all work together.

--We sell walking staffs to many climbers.



I know I'm supposed to be helping you here but I'm afraid I have nothing to contribute.

I do have a question though - I have always used staves as the plural of staff, is this incorrect or is it a case of having two options ?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Chris. My "American Heritage College Dictionary" and "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary" list both plurals. What does your dictionary show?



Hi, Lynn. Thank you for the reply; My "Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary" only lists staffs as a plural, however it also lists stave as an alternative to staff in certain situations.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks for the report, Chris. I hope you feel confident now.


Mavis Murphy

I would like to ask if one is referring to two or more members of an Executive, is in incorrect to say "executives"?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Mavis. "Executives" is correct as a plural. I am wondering whether you may be referring to "board members," which is also correct.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Someone left a comment, which I accidentally deleted, with these suggestions:

deer cattle swine salmon

These examples are all plural forms (and singular too except for "cattle"), so they do not fit the category of words with no plural form.



Its my first encounter with the website. I just find it really interesting!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

I am glad you think so.



TRAINING - has no plural form; it is a collective noun.. Hope it helps..

Usage: training sessions, series of training

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hmmm. I don't think of training as a collective noun such as "jury" (a group of jurors), "family" (a group of closely related people), or "team." "Training" is not necessarily a group.

However, I do know several corporate trainers who use "trainings" as a plural, meaning "training sessions." I have never liked that use.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.



This is a very informative thread! Also I stumbled-upon these words - alms, amends, cattle, clothes, doldrums, ides, pants, pliers, scissors, shorts, smithereens, and trousers - which are all plural which have no singular form.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Anand, thank you for that helpful list!


Dominic Savio

Add Good To your list

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

That's an interesting suggestion, Dominic. "Goods" is actually a plural form, as in "The goods have been delivered.

Thanks for stopping by.



how about evidence?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

"Evidence"--good one!


Catherine Than

I'm a Chinese with "Chinese as my first language" and I don't think that this statement ("I am working with an executive who speaks English as a second language, with Chinese as her first language.") is offensive to me. This is a common mistake to most of Chinese like me. Appreciate your effort clarifying it to people who have same problem as me.
(I'm sorry for my broken English)

What about "business" and "food"?
As I know, food doesn't has plural but many people telling me foods. I would like to know which is the correct one?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Catherine. Both words have plural forms:

--She has started two businesses.

--Which foods are good for my health?


The comments to this entry are closed.

Share this page
© 2005-present - Syntax Training - All Rights Reserved