View table of contents for this book View table of contents for LinguaLinksLibrary Go to LinguaLinks home page

What is a mass noun?



A mass noun is a noun whose referents are not thought of as separate entities.


It may have distinguishing features such as the following:

  • The inability to take a plural form
  • Cooccurrence with some determiners (such as some and much), but not others (such as the English many)

Some nouns may permit treatment as either count or mass nouns.


In English, salad may be treated as either a count or mass noun, as evidenced by the acceptability of the following expressions:

  • many salads
  • much salad
Examples (English)
  • The word furniture is a mass noun. It cannot take the plural suffix -s:

  • * furnitures
  • In addition, it can occur with some determiners, but not others:

  • the furniture
  • much furniture
  • some furniture
  • * a furniture
  • * many furnitures
  • Source:

    Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik 1985 246

  • Generic
      A mass noun is a kind of

    Hartmann and Stork 1972 137


    Crystal 1985 189


    Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik 1985 246


    Mish 1991 731

    Context for this page:

    Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

    Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

    © 2004 SIL International