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

You are NOT a staff!

I am a staff at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Although you will occasionally find an example of staff as a countable noun, it is extremely rare.

Used as an uncountable noun, staff refers to people who work for a particular organisation:

  • Staff at the Ministry of Religious Affairs receive a competitive salary.

Used as a countable noun, a staff is a kind of stick with certain features and functions:

  • often very long – longer than its user is tall
  • usually made of wood
  • usually quite ornate, possibly hand-crafted
  • used by someone with special powers, for example a wizard
  • often used in specialised fighting, like kung fu
  • otherwise used to assist in walking (elderly people, etc)

For example:

  • He used his staff to scare away evil spirits and then used it to turn my horse into a brand new Ferrari. I noticed the staff also helped him to walk!

In the context of your writing one of these meanings, staff countable / staff uncountable, will probably be more obvious than the other. However, if you want a high score in IELTS for vocabulary, I suggest you choose the most appropriate meaning!

If you really must use a countable noun, you can do this:

  • I am a member of staff at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Experiencing failure with countability

Moreover, a failure can be caused by a lack of practical experiences.

It’s annoying, I know, but while some nouns are countable and others are uncountable, yet others can be either countable or uncountable, and here are two examples in the same sentence: failure and experience.

Generally speaking, if a noun can be either countable or uncountable, and if you’re speaking generally, use the uncountable form. On the other hand if you’re talking about specific things then use the countable form – for example you may be talking about the time you failed an exam and saying what a terrible experience that was.

In the original example, I think we’re talking generally, right?

  • Moreover, failure can be caused by a lack of practical experience.

Meanwhile, using the countable versions of these words:

  • His brothers were all successful, but he was a failure. Receiving his exam results was an experience he would like to forget!

Aggressive contents(!)

Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive contents.

It’s difficult to imagine contents behaving aggressively:

aggressive contents

Take a look at some examples of sentences using content (uncountable) and contents (plural countable). Remember that when you’re talking about something that can be countable or uncountable, and if you are writing in general terms about that thing, then you should use the uncountable form.

  • Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive content.

Fighting crime(s)

The government need to make more of an effort to fight crimes.

Crime can be countable or uncountable, and as with other nouns that behave like this, the uncountable form has a more general meaning and the countable more specific.

Another way to look at this is to notice that fight and crime (without ‘s’) collocate strongly:

  • The government need to make more of an effort to fight crime.

Try googling fight crime and fight crimes. Which is more common? What are the differences in meaning?