College or Colleges

Taking a gap year gives certain advantages to young people before attending colleges.

Yet another of those dreaded words that have slightly different meanings in their countable and uncountable forms.

1. College, countable

If you attend colleges, then..

  • you attend more than one college in more than one location, either sequentially or at the same time.
  • possibly you keep changing your mind about what you want to study?
  • possibly you are never satisfied with the college you happen to be attending?
  • possibly you are super human!

2. College, uncountable

If you attend college, then..

  • you are enrolled on a course of study.
  • your course lasts for a fixed period of time.
  • you probably study on the same campus every day.
  • when you finish your course, you hope to receive some kind of qualification.

Perhaps it’s best to think of attend college, or go to college as phrasal verbs that carry all of these meanings. All of the above also applies to the word ‘university’.

Little equipment

You only need little equipment to play badminton.

This has two literal meanings, both of which seem odd:

  1. You only need small equipment to play badminton.
  2. You need not enough equipment to play badminton.

Clearly the writer did not intend either of these meanings. First of all there is obviously a standard size for badminton equipment, which is neither small nor large. Secondly, it would be impossible to play badminton without ‘enough’ equipment!

Little and a little have quite different meanings. Compare:

Gosh I’m thirsty after that game! Do you have any water left?
Yes, I still have a little. Here you are.
[a little = not much, but enough]
I wish we could play badminton more often!
Yes, but because of my job I have little time.
[little = not enough]

In the opening example, the writer is – I think – trying to say that playing badminton does not involve a lot of equipment:

  • You don’t need much equipment to play badminton.

In this case, not much means enough, and that’s good because it means that badminton is inexpensive compared to, say, photography, which generally involves a lot of expensive equipment and therefore a lot of spending!

Industrial theatre production(s)

Automation in industry means increased productivity and better productions.

Yet another word that has quite different meanings in its countable and uncountable forms!

In its countable form, production has strong associations with music and theatre:

  • Medieval theatre productions are still performed today.
  • 300 performances were given of 33 different opera productions.
  • The earliest sound effects were strictly studio productions.
  • Previous acclaimed productions include “Oklahoma!”
  • The building was used for massive concerts and theatrical productions.

It’s only when it’s in its uncountable form that production means manufacturing:

  • The highest production recorded was fifty thousand annually.
  • The company has 15 production plants worldwide.
  • By 1900 daily production was 2 thousand tons.
  • Even small scale “capitalist” production was suppressed.
  • The pellets production required increased freshwater access.

And so returning to our opening example, we need:

  • Automation in industry means increased productivity and better production.

Two competitions

There is an increasing competition which results in several negative effects.

Compare the following meanings.

  1. He won first prize in the competition.
    (competition, countable = an organised event in which people compete with each other – in front of an audience – to win a prize or a medal) [Indonesian flag kompetisi / lomba / pertandingan]
  2. There is fierce competition among rival tech companies.
    (competition, uncountable = a situation in which a person or an organisation is trying to be more successful – often financially – than another person or organisation) [Indonesian flag saingan]

Apple Samsung

Apple – Samsung

In the opening example our writer is using meaning (1), but I think he should be using meaning (2). First of all it’s difficult to imagine a competition, like the Olympic Games, ‘increasing’. What does that mean? Does it mean more countries are taking part? Or more people are taking part? Or more events are included now? And anyway, who would consider any of these increases to be ‘negative’?

I think the writer means this:

  • There is increasing competition which results in several negative effects.

‘Industry’ and ‘Industries’

Urbanisation supports economic development. Firstly, it is a supporting factor to increase industries.

OK so industry is one of those annoying words that can be countable and can be uncountable, depending on the context. If you’re being general then you need the uncountable form. Continue reading

Followed by medias!

I agree that famous people should be followed by medias.

This sounds like an alien race called ‘The Medias’ have arrived on earth intent on following famous people. I think this is what you meant:

  • I agree that famous people should be followed by the media.

Media‘ is one of those words that always has ‘the‘ when it is used as a noun meaning TV, Radio, newspapers, etc. – combined!

On the other hand if you’re talking about the materials used to make a work of art, then that’s a different ‘media‘!

  • This latest exhibition features work using mixed media.

‘Media’ can be countable or uncountable. In its singular form it is ‘medium‘, and in its plural form ‘media‘. We never write or say medias.

Society and community revisited

Space exploration does not improve conditions in the society.

Recently in class we were discussing the difference between society and community and it occurred to me that this might be an opportunity to contrast society and the society (see also previous post).

As you may be aware, there are so-called ‘uncontacted peoples‘ living in forests in different parts of the world. These people form communities whose social structures are very different from those found in modern society. This is because uncontacted peoples – for whatever reason – are cut off from the rest of society.

In this case, society (uncountable, without the) refers to all of humanity. Meanwhile community (here countable) refers to a group having shared values, interests and lifestyle. Academics sometimes identify uncontacted peoples as primitive societies (plural countable), where each society can be counted as a separate group having unique social characteristics. Note, however, that the countable use of society tends to be restricted to the fields of anthropology, sociology, and other social sciences.

If we wish to talk about society (uncountable, without the) to mean all of humanity, then our opening sentence should probably read:

  • Space exploration does not improve conditions in society.
Indonesian flag A common error made by Indonesian students is to write the society (a particular group) when you really mean society (all of humanity).

For further analysis of society and the society try here.

Showing support(s)

They have somehow shown their supports and encouraged me to pursue postgraduate study.

Right collocation (v. show, n. support), wrong form (at least in this context).

Support‘ is one of those annoying words that can be countable and can be uncountable. In its countable form it refers to a physical support (or supports), for example the supports used to stop a building from falling down:

showing supports Bob

In its uncountable form, ‘support‘ refers to a more abstract support that may be physical but can also be emotional. I think it was this second meaning that you were aiming to communicate:

  • They have somehow shown their support and encouraged me to pursue postgraduate study.

Again, the collocation is good: v. show, n. support!

(members of an) Audience (s)

Several audiences left before the film finished.

Audience is indeed countable but it is a ‘collective’ noun, and so an (=1) audience can comprise many people. If you want to focus on a subgroup of an audience then it is common to refer to these people as ‘members of an audience’:

  • Several members of the audience left before the film finished.

An example of audiences (plural) might be:

  • The opening of the new James Bond film was enjoyed by audiences up and down the country.

In this case the same film was watched simultaneously by many different groups of people (audiences) in many different locations.

I’ll end this post with two illustrations. The first shows audience, the second audiences.


One audience


Five audiences