"Do you do Taco Hell?" / "bus" as non-count n.

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Dec 8 14:57:38 UTC 2006

On Dec 8, 2006, at 5:21 AM, Charlie Doyle wrote:

> And we discussed the uncounting of "prom" a few months ago.

i argued at the time that this was not a mass use of "prom" (and some
other nouns), but a use as a pseudo-proper name.

> I used to suppose that a similar development (if it is a
> development) was more advanced in British English--and among
> Americans affecting British manners:  "at table," "in hospital,"
> "at university," etc.  But, of course, we normal folks say "in
> bed," "at school," "go to college."

these are standardly treated not as mass uses, but as merely
anarthrous uses of count nouns with non-specific reference (arthrous
in the american version "Kim is in the hospital" and the like).

"ride bus", "drive truck", and "ride bike" are still another type of
case, and i'm not sure at the moment what the right thing to say
about them is, though my first guess was that they're related in some
way to object-incorporating compounds like "bus-riding", "truck-
driving" (and "truck-driver"), etc.; the idea would be that "ride
bus" arises from interpreting "bus-riding" as the "-ing" form of a
verb "bus-ride" (N+V), which in turn can be seen as a compound
version of the syntactic V+Object combination "ride bus".  if
something like this is right, "bus" (etc.) are just count nouns in
their bare form, as is standard in N+X compounds (even when the N is
understood as having plural semantics, as in "bird house" 'house for
birds' etc.).


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