Mass nouns and plurals

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Mass and plural expressions exhibit interesting similarities in distribution and interpretation, including cumulative reference, the ability to appear bare, and a parallel alternation between existential and generic readings. They also exhibit important differences in agreement, determiner choice, and in the types of quantification available. Major approaches to plural denotation make conflicting claims whether plurality involves reference to collective objects such as sets or mereological sums, or instead requires simultaneous saturation of an argument place by multiple individuals. Theories of mass denotation differ as to whether the count/mass distinction is a difference in discrete vs. continuous denotation, reference to objects vs. the material they are composed of, or reference to mereological sums vs. classes of individuals. Bare plurals and mass nouns sometimes denote "kinds"; there is disagreement whether they also have an indefinite reading. Several kinds of plural and mass quantification can be distinguished, depending on determiner choice, predicate modification, and the use of a classifier or measure phrase. Plural quantifiers may interact to give a "cumulative" reading, in which the quantifiers are scopally independent. Sentences containing plurals sometimes exhibit an ambiguity between collective and distributive readings; the number of readings and mechanisms for producing them is in dispute.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSemantics
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9783110255072
ISBN (Print)9783110185232
StatePublished - Dec 23 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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