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The Category of Number

From a logical point of view, the distinction is between one and more than one. The corresponding grammatical distinction is between singular and plural, e.g.: a table - tables.

Some linguists say that the essential meaning of the category of number is not that of quantity, but that of discreteness. The plural, according to them, denotes something consisting of distinguishable parts, e.g.: spectacles, scissors, trousers, etc. [E.A. Korneyeva, N.A. Kobrina. K.A. Guzeyeva, M.I. Ossovskaya].

These nouns do indicate discrete things consisting of two parts. But we are hardly justified in referring them to the plural number because they have no singular counterparts, and the plural and the singular are correlative notions: when there is no singular, we cannot speak about the plural, and vice versa.

So, the generalized grammatical meaning of number is that of quantity. In Modern English, it is represented by the opposition 'oneness (singular) - more than oneness (plural)'.

At first sight, it may seem that the difference between the singular and the plural is not grammatical, but lexical since, for example, table (singular) and tables (plural) denote different objects of extra linguistic reality [F.F. Fortunatov].

However, we know that the meaning of a word cannot be identified with the thing it is used to denote. Besides, we should not disregard the fact that the idea of plurality usually has constant grammatical forms of its expression. In English, it is the inflection ~(e)s, e.g.:

a lamp — lamps,

a box - boxes.

(The inflection -es is added after -s, -ss, -ch, -sh, -tch, -x, -z, and -o.).

We can only speak of 'more than one', i.e. of the plural, in regard to things, which, without being identical, belong to the same kind [O. Jespersen]. Plurality, thus, presupposes difference, but if the difference is too great, it is impossible to use words like 'two' or 'three'. For instance, a brick and a musical sound are not two.

Some linguists single out two other types of the plural: lexicalized plural and the plural of approximation.



The so-called lexicalized plural either introduces new shades of meaning into the singular or comes to render a totally different meaning. Cf.:

Tragedy is lack of experience(D.H. Lawrence).

He's had many odd experiences(R. Quirk et a!.).

Colour (ifeem) - colours(<pnaz),

The form of lexicalized plural is identical with that of grammatical plural: -(e)s. But the meaning of lexicalized plural is always different from the corresponding singular. That's why it should be excluded from the grammatical category of number, for the components of the grammatical category of number should be lexically identical.

The plural of approximation, mentioned by O. Jespersen, in our opinion, is closer to lexical forms, for though, like grammatical plural., it ends in -(e)s and denotes several objects, the objects do not belong to the same kind, e.g.: There are many things people remember about the sixties(J.C. Richards, J. Hull, S. Proctor), where sixties does not mean 'one sixty + another sixty + ...', but 'sixty' + 'sixty-one' + 'sixty-two', and so on till 'sixty-nine'.

The combinability with singular verbs and the substitution by singular pronouns testifies to the word-building, i.e. lexical, and not the form-building, i.e. grammatical nature of the morpheme -(e)s in formations of the kind the sixties, the nineties, etc. Cf.:

The sixties was a time when young people used to do whatever they wanted (J.C. Richards, J. Hull, S. Proctor).

There are many things people remember about the sixties.Some remember it for mini-skirts, hippies, and the flower children (J.C. Richards, J. Hull, S. Proctor).

In other words, only those forms are qualified by us as plural that introduce the grammatical meaning of 'more than oneness', without changing the lexical meaning of the singular form.

The category of number in English is represented by the opposition of the singular and the plural. The singular form denotes 'oneness'; it is the non-marked member of the opposition. The plural form denotes 'more than oneness'; it is the marked member of the opposition. The regular way of forming the plural is by adding the -(e)s inflection.

There are several irregular ways of forming the plural.

1. Voicing of final consonant •+• -s plural.

Some nouns ending in -/or ~fe form their plurals by changing the ending to -ves, e.g.: a knife - knives.

Others have regular plurals as well, e.g.: a scarf- scarves (scarfs).

2. Mutation plurals.

In a few nouns, the plural is formed by mutation, i.e. a change in the vowel, e.g.: a man - men, a woman - women, afoot —feet, a tooth - teeth, etc.

3. -en plurals, e.g.:
an ox - oxen.

Children, the plural of child, combines a vowel change and the irregular ending -en.

4. Zero plurals.

Countable nouns that have the same form for singular and plural are said to have zero plural, e.g.: a sheep - sheep, a deer - deer.

5. Foreign plurals.

In many learned words scholars have introduced the plural as well as the singular form from foreign languages, e.g.:

curriculum - curricula,

formula -formulae.

There is. however, a strong tendency to inflect such words in the English way, especially in everyday speech, e.g.:

a formula -formulas.

There is no special form for the common (or generic) number. The meaning of the generic number in English is rendered in the following ways:

1) the singular without any article, e.g.:
Man should be lonely (J. Updike);

2) the singular with the indefinite article, e.g.:
A barking dog does not bite (Proverb);

3) the singular with the definite article, e.g.:
The early bird catches the worm (Proverb);



4) the plural without any article, e.g.:

But rich peopledo have their problems (N. Monsarrat).

As regards the category of number, all English nouns can be divided into two classes: countable and uncountable. Countable nouns are those that have the opposition 'singular - plural', e.g.: a book - books.

Uncountable nouns do not call up the idea of any definite thing with a certain shape or precise limits. They are either material, e.g.: silver, water, butter, gas, etc., or abstract, e.g.: leisure, music, success, tact, etc.

Those uncountable nouns that always combine with singular verbs and are substituted by singular pronouns are called Singularia Tantum. Most Singularia Tantum are singular in form. Cf.:

Sugar is not fashionable any more (O. Wilde).

Take the moneyout and countJt (M. White).

/ know my hairis_ beautiful... (Th. Hardy),

Some Singularia Tantum end in -s. They are:

1) the noun news, e.g.:

Well, \vhatj_ the news? (W. Deeping);

2) nouns ending in -ics that denote subjects, sciences, etc.,

Mathematics has the same educational function as classics used to have (M. Swan);

3) names of certain diseases ending in -s, e.g.:
Measles takes a long time to get over (M. Swan);

4) names of some games ending in -s, e.g.:
DraughtsJs an easier game than chess (M. Swan).

The final -5 in ail these cases, however, is not an inflection of the plural number.

Singular collective nouns that refer to groups of people (e.g. family, team, government, etc.) may be treated as either singular or plural. They are treated as plural, especially in British English, when the focus is on the group as individuals. In these cases, a plural verb is used, and the group is referred to by the pronouns they and who, e.g.:

My family are wonderful. They do all they can for me, I don't know any other family who_ would do so much (M. Swan).

They are treated as singular when we see the group as an impersonal unit. In these cases, a singular verb is used, and the


group is referred to by the pronoun it and the words which and that, not who, e.g.:

The average family(which now consists of four members at

most) is a great deal smaller than it used to be (M. Swan).

Those uncountable nouns that always combine with plural verbs and are substituted by plural pronouns are called Pluralia Tantum. Most Pluralia Tantum end in -s. Cf.:

My trousersare getting too small round the waist (M. Swan).

The nurse's wageswere good (W. Collins).

Where_are my scissors?(A.S. Hornby).

The sugar-tongs were too wide for one of her hands, and she had to use both in wielding them (Ch. Bronte).

Some Pluralia Tantum lack the final -s. They include the following nouns:

I)people, e.g.:

Were there many peopleat the meetingl (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English);

2)police., e.g.:

The police have caught the murderer (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English);

3) cattle, e.g.:

All his cattlewere grazing in the field (R. Quirk et al.);

4)poultry (farmyard birds), e.g.:

Where are your poultry? (R. Quirk et al.)1;

5) livestock (animals kept on a farm), e.g.:

Our livestockare not as numerous as they used to be (R. Quirk et al.);

6) vermin, e.g.:

These vermincause disease (R. Quirk et al).

According to A.I. Smirnitsky, both Singularia and Pluralia Tantum have the category of number. His point of view, however, does not seem convincing. Every grammatical category must be represented by an opposition of at least two forms. In the case of Singularia and Pluralia Tantum, we deal with one form only. That's why it seems more reasonable to accept the conception of

But the noun poultry is treated as singular in the sense of'meat', e.g.: Poultry is cheaper than meat at the moment (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English).


V.N. Zhigadlo, I.P. Ivanova and L.L. lofik and say that both Singularia and Pluralia Tantum stand outside the grammatical category of number.

The Category of Gender

Traditionally, gender is defined as a morphological category that finds its expression in special noun inflections of gender and that is closely tied to the sex of the referent.

"There is no unity of opinion concerning the category of gender in Modern English. Old English nouns distinguished 3 grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. H. Sweet finds the same 3 genders in Modern English.

Criticizing the conception of H, Sweet, A.I. Smirnitsky emphasizes that in Modern English it is not nouns, but the things they denote that are classified into the so-called genders. For instance, there is no formal difference between the nouns boy and girl. But the noun boy is considered to belong to the masculine gender, the noun girl - to the feminine gender. In other words, gender in Modern English nouns is expressed lexically.

1. By using totally different nouns, e.g.:
father mother,

son - daughter, uncle - aunt, man - woman, bull — cow, etc.

2. By using derived nouns with masculine and feminine
suffixes: -er/-or, -ess, e.g.:

waiter - waitress, actor - actress.

3. By using compound nouns in -man and -woman, e.g.:
policeman -policewoman.

4. By using a modifier denoting sex, e.g.:
boy-friend - girl-friend, _

he-goat - she-goat, Tom-cat Pussy-cat, male nurse, female officer, woman doctor, etc.

English speakers use masculine terms more often than feminine terms. There are two reasons for the preference of male terms over female terms.

1. The continuing male sex bias in English society where men
still hold more positions of power and authority than women.

2. The masculine terms are often used to refer to both sexes,
but not vice versa.

In recent decades, efforts have been made to avoid masculine bias by using gender-neutral compound nouns in -person instead of -man or -woman, e.g.:

Mrs. Ruddock said she had been nominated as spokesperson for the wives (D. Biber et al.).

However, this trend has had limited success so far.

O. Jespersen and J. Vendryes define gender not as a morphological but as a syntactic category because it finds its expression in grammatical agreement. In the opinion of J. Vendryes, when there is no agreement, gender disappears. The loss of inflections, which began in the Middle English period, resulted in an almost complete disappearance of agreement.

Thus, gender in Modern English is expressed neither morphologically, i.e. by special inflections of gender, nor syntactically, i.e. by forms of agreement. Gender in Modem English is a purely lexical category.

The Semantic Classification of Nouns

The semantic classification of nouns still causes much controversy among linguists. According to W.L. Chafe, the distinction between countable and uncountable nouns is most important. V.V. Bogdanov takes the opposition "animate ~ inanimate' as a starting point for his noun classification. We side with Y.S. Stepanov in regarding the relation to extra linguistic reality as a basis for a semantic classification of nouns.

At the first stage, in accordance with the presence or absence of direct connection with extra linguistic reality, all nouns are divided into those denoting objects and those denoting non-objects, i.e. abstract notions. Objects are further subdivided into those having clear-cut boundaries and those having no definite boundaries, i.e. material nouns, e.g.: water, milk, sand, etc. Objects having clear-cut boundaries fall into living and non-living, i.e. things, e.g.: pen, table, chair, etc. Living objects can be animate and inanimate, i.e. plants, e.g.: rose, tulip, lily, etc. Animate living objects either lack person characteristics (animals), e.g.: cat, dog, fox, etc. or possess person characteristics (people).

Nouns denoting things, people, and sometimes plants and materials can be classified into two large classes: common, e.g.: pen, cat, boy, rose, water, etc. and proper, e.g.: Britain, Rex, John, Burgundy, etc. Common nouns generally draw a distinction between singularity and plurality. Cf.:

This is a hat. - These are hats(A.S. Hornby).

This is a child.~ These are children(C.E. Eckersley).

The only exception is constituted by common material nouns, where the plural suffix, as a rule, introduces a new shade of meaning that is incompatible with the grammatical plural. Cf.:

The water feels very cold on winter mornings... (C.E. Eckersley).

Where are we going, Grandpa? - To wash in the watersof bitterness (A.J. Cronin).

In common nouns denoting people and sometimes animals, the dichotomy 'singularity - plurality' is supplemented by collective nouns, e.g.: people, police, cattle, etc. Collective nouns denoting people, in the opinion of R. Quirk and his co-authors, possess person characteristics when they combine with plural verbs and/or are substituted by plural pronouns, e.g.:

The committeehave met and they have rejected the proposal (R. Quirk etal.).

The gender differentiation of singular and proper nouns, suggested by V.V. Bogdanov, seems superfluous for the English language because English nouns lack the grammatical category of gender.

Non-objects (or abstract notions) are classified into terms, e.g.: sentence, noun, verb, etc. and non-terms, e.g.: remark, beauty, honesty, etc. The subdivision of non-objects into terms and non-terms comes very close to the subdivision of objects, possessing definite boundaries, into proper and common. Both terms and non-terms are registered in the singular and in the plural. Cf.:noun - nouns,

remark ~ remarks.

However, the plural member of the opposition in non-objects is characterized by a far lower frequency of occurrence than its singular counterpart.


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