By JK2

2018-01-02 08:05:31 8 Comments

'Abstract noun' is defined by Oxford as follows:

A noun denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object, e.g. truth, danger, happiness.

Are abstract nouns always singular? Or are there such things as 'plural abstract nouns'?

Do any of these qualify as 'plural abstract nouns'?

We all want to see this criminal get his just deserts.

Levels of earnings are still rising.

There's a chance it could rain, but odds are that it'll be sunny tomorrow.

The judge awarded her $5,000 in damages.

Please accept my condolences.

When it comes to men, she prefers brains over brawn.

No guts, no glory


In no way am I asking about these specific nouns, as the title clearly indicates. So please take these nouns simply possible examples of plural abstract nouns (if there are such things), and try to answer the general question about the existence of plural abstract nouns.


@Bill G 2018-01-14 12:25:21

I cannot make any contributions to the scholarly discussion. I merely wish to recall a single usage that is moderately well known of a plural usage. "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

@Bread 2018-01-10 00:58:29

Interesting question. Here's how to know for certain that abstract nouns are always singular, despite their frequently plural forms. As given:

A noun denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object, e.g. truth, danger, happiness. [Oxford]

  • If an abstract noun denotes an idea, it is singular because "an idea" is singular.
  • If an abstract noun denotes a quality, it is singular because "a quality" is singular.
  • If an abstract noun denotes a state, it is singular because "a state" is singular.
  • If an abstract noun denotes a concept, it is singular because "a concept" is singular.

And so on. Then, there is the fact that some nouns do not have any singular form. Example: trousers. "I'm hanging up my trousers." may mean that you are only hanging up a single garment.

The abstract nouns whose singularity you question, just coincidentally happen to fall into the category of nouns which must be posed in plural form, in order to convey their meanings in appropriate context.

So being in plural form doesn't necessarily mean that those particular abstract nouns are plural, in the sense that they represent more than one idea. Rather, each one represents just a single concept.

There are also many abstract nouns which are not posed in plural form: childhood, stewardship, direction, forgiveness, etc. -- as with concrete nouns.

So in conclusion, there are singular nouns which are expressed only in plural form. And, all abstract nouns, regardless of form, are singular.

(Singular and Plural Nouns)

(Cambridge author Peter Lucantoni in a training video on abstract nouns...)

UPDATE (correction): How embarrassing, I was wrong:

Abstract nouns Some abstract nouns can be used uncountably or countably. The uncountable use has a more general meaning. The countable use has a more particular meaning.

Nouns of this type include: education, experience, hatred, help, knowledge, life, love, sleep, time, understanding.

@JK2 2018-01-10 01:55:26

I don't understand what you mean by "all abstract nouns, regardless of form, are singular." For example, odds is in plural form and is treated as plural as in The odds are in our favor.

@Bread 2018-01-10 02:29:59

A few words, though singular in nature, are made of paired or grouped items and generally treated as plural: scissors, pants, trousers, glasses, pliers, tongs, tweezers, and the like. Many are often used with the word "pair" as in pair of pants or pair of scissors. And some others are used as abstract nouns.

@JK2 2018-01-10 02:38:01

Just so you know, I wasn't asking about whether there are any abstract nouns that are "plural in nature", whatever that means. I was asking about whether there are any abstract nouns that are "plural in form".

@McHiggins 2018-01-11 17:21:01

Ideas can be abstract, while nouns are always concrete if they can be used in a real (rather than imaginary) sentence.

The OED refers to concrete nouns that are used to produce an abstract thought (like idea, state or quality). People may refer to such tools colloquially as "abstract nouns", as a kind of shorthand, but that does not create a new class of nouns which no one can see, speak, write or hear. Words themselves are always concrete if they can be written down. What they mean is another matter.

@Lambie 2018-01-13 15:22:14

That's right, it does not create a class. And in fact, the classes would be: those than can be plural with a semantic change and those that cannot. Justice is only in the singular but freedom be either. Then, there are also some that only occur in the plural.

@Lawrence 2018-01-08 10:55:47

Yes, there are plural abstract nouns. Here are a couple (emphasis, mine ... come to think of it, emphases is also a plural abstract noun):

state noun 1 The particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time. ‘the state of the company's finances’ - ODO

stage noun A point, period, or step in a process or development. ‘there is no need at this stage to give explicit details’ - ODO

  • I was in the early stages of pregnancy - ODO

From the list of nouns you were "in no way asking about", deserts, earnings, odds, damages and condolences are plural and abstract. Brains and guts are metonyms of concrete plural nouns.

What makes an abstract idea countable is the same as what makes a concrete noun countable: an accepted boundary to its extent. A pool (of water) can be distinguished from an adjacent pool because it has finite dimensions (you can tell where one pool finishes and where another starts). Likewise, there's a logical extent to ideas, states and stages, etc: you can tell where one of those finishes and another starts. On the other hand, the extent of air, water and flexibility is, in each case, somewhat nebulous, so they are treated as mass nouns. They can be quantised, however, and it's typically the quanta that are counted - e.g. a puff of air, a tract of water, a point of flexibility. Sometimes, the mass noun is used as a metonym for the quantum (e.g. in restaurants: 'one water' for 'one glass of water'), but this is straying outside the bounds of your question.

The issue with abstract nouns may be that extent is a conceptual matter there. One can't take a ruler to it or build a box to contain it. Nevertheless, if the abstract noun does have an (abstract) extent, it is countable.

@JK2 2018-01-08 14:02:51

Thanks for confirming the existence of plural abstract nouns. Your own examples -- emphases, states and stages -- are all countable as in two emphases, two states and two stages. I wonder how "a noun denoting an idea, quality, or state" could possibly be countable. As for brains and guts being "metonyms", I'm not sure whether they really are "metonyms", but regardless, they denote "an idea, quality, or state" (intelligence and courage) whereas their concrete noun counterparts don't.

@Lawrence 2018-01-08 14:14:07

@JK2 You're welcome. On countability: your own phrasing, "an idea", treats idea as countable. Just because it's not tangible doesn't mean it's uncountable. Likewise, just because something is tangible doesn't mean it's countable (e.g. water). On brains - we can consider the thinking organ (physical brain) being spoken of in place of the ability to think (intelligence) - that's an example of metonymy. Similarly for guts and courage, though I can do little more than guess at the link there.

@JK2 2018-01-08 14:25:13

I agree that tangibility and countability are not logically related. Regarding "an idea", I know this sounds confusing, but I don't think the noun idea in I've got an idea "denote an idea, quality, or state" (as defined by Oxford). I think it denotes an individuated instance of any such abstract concept.

@Lawrence 2018-01-08 14:26:35

@JK2 - I was referring to your use of an with your use of idea in "an idea, quality, ..." :) . If it was uncountable (e.g. wastage), you would leave out the article: "denote (no article) wastage" vs "denote an idea".

@JK2 2018-01-09 00:40:35

Like I said, I agree that tangibility has nothing to do with countability. So, idea, which is intangible, is usually treated as countable. But just because abstract nouns are defined as "denoting an idea (a countable noun)" doesn't mean abstract nouns can or should be countable.

@Lawrence 2018-01-09 01:12:17

@JK2 I think I see what you're asking about: how does one go about identifying 'one' of something so nebulous to count it? I've edited my answer accordingly.

@JK2 2018-01-09 01:46:57

So do you consider idea in I've got an idea to be an abstract noun? All the plural abstract nouns shown in the OP are NOT countable. You can't say three deserts or five odds, can you? On the other hand, you can count idea as in I've got two ideas.

@Lawrence 2018-01-12 06:15:21

@JK2 I don't think you can pin it down without reference to the speaker's intent. It's like the phrase "I've got it!" (meaning they've understood something), where the it they got isn't really 'countable' - if they understood two things, it's not idiomatic for them to say, "I've got them!". If "I've got an idea" is used in the sense of "I know, how about doing it this way ...", then idea is a singulare tantum like deserts or odds in your examples. If it's used in the sense of "Here's one idea; and JK2 has another", then you can have two or more ideas.

@KarlG 2018-01-08 13:25:34

Your question posits an exact correspondence of the abstractness/non-concreteness of a noun and whether it is countable. To define an abstract noun, the Oxford Dictionary uses three abstract nouns: idea, quality, and state. All three can form plurals. Flour, luggage, and celery are concrete, but not countable. How, then, can you support such a correspondence?

@JK2 2018-01-08 13:41:34

Shouldn't this be more like a comment than an answer?

@KarlG 2018-01-08 13:56:04

Only if you think the rhetorical question at the end is a real one demanding an answer.

@JK2 2018-01-08 14:11:54

Even if that's a rhetorical question, your answer still fails to provide an answer to my question. And even if it answers my question, I have to point out that your "answer" deriving from your rhetorical question is based on your erroneous claim that idea, quality and state are somehow "abstract nouns" even when they function as countable nouns. True, they can be abstract and plural but not at the same time, I think. And flour, luggage, celery being uncountable is a non-issue.

@KarlG 2018-01-08 15:31:54

On the contrary, it would be incumbent upon you to prove that an idea, i.e., a purely mental construct, is not abstract or that somehow, having two ideas makes it less so. Honesty is an excellent quality, and while there are no "honesties," one can have any number of excellent qualities. If you wish to entertain a definition of abstract/concrete different than that commonly understood, then you are welcome to put forth your own taxonomy that would include honesty but not quality. Until then, however, the question of whether there are plural abstract nouns is answered with a resounding yes.

@JK2 2018-01-09 00:49:56

Now that sounds more like an answer.

Related Questions

Sponsored Content

12 Answered Questions

4 Answered Questions

1 Answered Questions

[SOLVED] Are these words concrete or abstract nouns?

3 Answered Questions

2 Answered Questions

[SOLVED] Are two singular nouns together singular or plural?

3 Answered Questions

[SOLVED] Singular nouns in plural form

1 Answered Questions

Sponsored Content