Accounts of the Count-Mass Distinction: A Critical Survey


  • Frank Joosten FWO-Vlaanderen, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven



Count-mass Distinction, Countability, Number


The issue of what is usually, but also misleadingly called the count-mass distinction, i.e. the distinction between nouns that can be counted (e.g. a car, two cars, many cars) and nouns that cannot (e.g. *a sand, *two sands, *many sands, sand, much sand), has been addressed and accounted for in different ways. This paper gives a critical survey of four main theoretical views on the distinction and points out that each of them is problematic in some way. It is argued that that the count-mass distinction should not be reduced to an exclusively grammatical, ontological, semantic, or contextual issue. A proper characterisation of the distinction can only be given if its multidimensional character is fully acknowledged and if parameters such as basic count- or masshood, degree of lexicalisation, conceptualisation, and (non)arbitrariness are taken into account.