Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Radioactive Mooses?
May 10, 2007 9:18 AM   Subscribe

pluralsfilter: Why don't we use words like "radiations"?

It seems like a lot of words that have logical plurals don't ever get used in english. Radiations means essentially the same thing as emanations or emissions, but we don't use it the same way. Why is this? Where can I find more information about why we drop the pluralization on some many words?
posted by blue_beetle to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Collective nouns.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:29 AM on May 10, 2007


The distinction here is count vs mass nouns.

Now, why is "radiation" a mass noun, but "emanation" is a count noun? That's basically a matter of customary usage, AFAIK. Some mass nouns even become count nouns in specific circumstances, eg water (mass noun) becomes "we'll have 3 waters please" at a restaurant.
posted by adamrice at 9:35 AM on May 10, 2007


Note that you would say "less" radiation, but "fewer" emissions. The distinction between counting radiation and counting emissions is blurred, but countability is obvious in most cases: Less garbage, fewer bottles, less forest, fewer trees.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:50 AM on May 10, 2007


And count nouns can be used as mass nouns in certain circumstances, as in "This place smells like ass."
posted by svenx at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2007


'Radiations' does get used in anatomy and pathology, FWIW. As in 'optic radiations.'
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 1:50 PM on May 10, 2007


Note that we usually use container or unit words when we want to count specific quantities of mass nouns. "3 glasses of water", "3 canisters of air", "4 sectors of space", "2 curies of radiation". There are languages (like Japanese) in which all nouns are mass nouns, and a myriad of different counting words like these are used for nearly every noun. You have it easy, so count yourself lucky (har har).
posted by vorfeed at 2:06 PM on May 10, 2007


It's like fish vs fishes. 1 Fish, 2 Fish, 3 Fish. When you have more than one type of fish, you have types of fishes.
posted by fvox13 at 2:48 PM on May 10, 2007


It's like fish vs fishes. 1 Fish, 2 Fish, 3 Fish. When you have more than one type of fish, you have types of fishes.

No, it's not really. You wouldn't say "two radiation" or "three radiation" — or, for that matter, "these radiation" or "a radiation." "Two fish," "three fish," "these fish" and "a fish" are all fine.

Fish is a count noun that doesn't change in the plural. Radiation is a mass noun.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:30 PM on May 10, 2007


« Older How do I teach study skills to...   |  What's it like to be a kid wit... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.