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.

flag-of-indonesia 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.

Humans are usually redundant

In conclusion, long working hours are necessary for human beings.

flag-of-indonesia I’m guessing this may be a cultural issue.

Let’s try a quick test. Which of the following sentences is NOT about working hours and humans?

  1. Long working hours are necessary for human beings.
  2. Long working hours are necessary.
  3. Long working hours are necessary for ants.

Hopefully you chose number 3. In any discussion of working hours, and indeed of many other topics, we’re usually talking about human beings, unless otherwise specified.

The only time we really need to mention humans is when we’re contrasting them with non-humans!

The human’s wife is an alien

In my opinion, artificial intelligence should be kept away from humans’ civilisation.

OK, here are two specimens – a human (Bill), and an alien (Zarka). If I talk about the human, I’m talking about the gentleman on the left. If I talk about the alien, I’m talking about the lady on the right.

Bill and Zarka

We can say that the human’s nose is longer than the alien’s nose, and the human’s neck is thicker than the alien’s. Also, since the alien has no body hair, we can assume that the alien is interested in human hair.

Let’s look at the grammar.

  • I use the possessive when I’m talking about a particular human (Bill) or a particular alien (Zarka). I could also be talking about a specific group of humans or aliens.
  • On the other hand I don’t use a possessive when I’m talking about all humans (their hair). The alien is interested in the phenomenon of hair as it grows on all humans, everywhere.

When you’re using ‘human‘ as a noun modifier, stop and think! Are you referring to an individual human or a specific group of humans? Or are you talking about all humans? Only add the possessive if your reader knows exactly which human (or specific group of humans) you are referring to.


There will be many disadvantages for human if animal testing is stopped.

If we check in a dictionary, we see that human can be an adjective and it can be a noun. In this example human is used as a noun.

If we check again in the dictionary, we see that human is a countable noun. In grammar, we know that if we’re talking about all examples of a thing, everywhere, and the thing is countable, then we must add an ‘s’ to the noun:

  • There will be many disadvantages for humans if animal testing is stopped.

Mistakes are often made when human is used as a noun modifier, in which case the ‘s’ might be added to the main noun:

  • There will be many disadvantages for human beings if animal testing is stopped.

Can you identify examples of human used as a noun, and human used as a noun modifier? Add them to the comments below :).