singular debris?

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Jul 21 23:50:04 UTC 1999

I confess I do not understand the concept "limited count noun." "Mass noun"
seems an accurate (and traditional) label for "debris," which cannot be
counted (like other mass nouns) unless an appropriate "classifier" (say,
"pieces") is attached - grains of sand, flakes of snow, drops of rain,
etc... . Attachment of a quantifier is different. "Lots of" quantifies mass
and count (lots of sand, lots of ideas; "many," however, quantifies counts
only ("many ideas") while "much" quantifies mass only ("much rain").

(I disregard the well-known "type" quantafiability of mass nouns - "many
rices," which means "kinds" of, not grains, or the quantifiability of mass
nouns when they are associated with a "typical" (but unstated) container.
"How many beers did she drink?" - where we assume "mugs of," "bottles of,"
"cans of," or some such thing).



>That usage is more of a limited count noun than a plural.  I do not think
>that you would hear two debris anymore than you would two guts; you could
>hear "he's got lots of guts" as an alternative to "a lot of guts."
>----- Original Message -----
>From: Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
>Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 1999 9:38 AM
>Subject: Re: singular debris?
>> barbara need asks when DEBRIS became singular.  i've used
>> it all my life as a mass noun, hence as singular in its
>> agreement pattern.  and i don't recall ever having heard/seen
>> it used as a plural count noun; LOTS OF DEBRIS WERE SCATTERED
>> ON THE BEACH makes me break out all over in asterisks, in fact.
>> arnold (zwicky at, in urbana, illinois,
>>   for another week)

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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