Cost or costs?

In the metal and mining sector, companies are facing significant problems (Hopwood, 2018). For example, they face increasing production cost due to the rapid development of new mining technologies.

Like much basic vocabulary in the field of economics, cost is a difficult word! First of all this is one of those words that can be countable and uncountable, and secondly there are some usage peculiarities with each.

Cost uncountable

As with most uncountable nouns, or uncountable versions of nouns, here we are speaking very generally:

  • We provide added value at no extra cost.
  • Before going ahead with the project, we need to remember that cost is a major factor. If it’s too high then we may need a Plan B!
  • Several factors need to be taken into consideration, including cost, timing and availability.

In each of these examples, notice that cost is either high or low, or potentially multi-faceted. The project probably involves more than one cost, but these are either not specified, perhaps because it is not considered important to specify them, or they may not yet be known!

Cost countable – plural

Costs (plural) is sometimes used interchangeably with – and for the same purpose as – cost (uncountable):

  • Before going ahead with the project, we need to consider costs.
  • Before going ahead with the project, we need to consider cost.

These both carry the same meaning, i.e. probably more than one thing has to be bought or paid for!

However, the plural version of cost suggests there are multiple things to buy or pay for, and these are already known, at least to some extent:

  • Tax complexity means additional tax compliance costs.
  • The overwhelming cost culprit is labor costs.
  • (notice the use of cost – singular – here as a noun modifier!)The biggest problem is health care costs.

Notice that costs (plural) often appears at the end of sentences, and of clauses!

Cost countable – singular

Here we’re talking about a single expense, which is known and might also be named:

  • The cost is $2 per person.
  • School fees add considerably to the cost of raising a child.
  • The shipping cost quoted below includes full value insurance.

And since we talking about a specific>cost, notice that the definite article the is probably needed.

Practice

Select appropriate forms of cost from the passage below. Later you might also want to read about other problematic words from economics!

You might also want to consider what is wrong with the opening example at the top of the page. How might it be improved, and why? (Comments below, please!)

Select words from the drop-down menus to complete the text. When you have finished, click 'Check your answers!' for feedback.

OK I understand

The of maintaining a car can be quite high. Not only are there day to day running such as fuel and maintenance, there is the of insurance, and government road tax is yet another ! can therefore make it difficult for younger people to have a car.

Answer Key

Answers here, but only if you're really stuck!

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