So, it’s taken me so long to reply to mom’s comment on my last entry that I decided to write a post on this. I just had a class today on count/mass nouns and I have so much info you would not believe! Okay, if you want an overview that is good but not overwhelmingly technical read this. You can skip the singular/plural section, the mass/count section is the most interesting.
About less and fewer, the professor pointed out that this isn’t really a mass/count division, it’s a division between singular mass nouns (e.g. milk) and plural count nouns (e.g. m&m’s). (Granted it doesn’t make much difference, but of course singular count nouns can’t be used with “fewer.”) “Less” is becoming far more prevalent than “fewer” because it is more recognized as the opposite of “more” which is used for both the sg mass and pl count nouns. My prof also pointed out that many/much are good diagnostic terms for the mass/count division and I realized it’s really funny to use “much” with plural count nouns (e.g. “I have too much emails in my inbox” “I have too much clothes on”).
A few other interesting notes, plants are confusing in the mass/count division. You can have a field of corn but not a field of bean. You can have rosemary but not rose. You can’t grow rhubarbs in your garden, or squashes, but you can grow potatoes and tomatoes. Also, someone has coined the term “universal grinder” for when count nouns are transformed into mass nouns, as in “after the accident there was cat all over the road.” Our professor also pointed out that foreign food items often surface as “zero plurals” (like “deer” and “sheep”) so people sometimes say “croissant” (I’ve never heard this) and “falafel” instead of “croissants” and “falafels,” although to me falafels also sounds hilarious.