Is money countable?

PUBLIC relations executive Eileen Tan – whose skin is whiter than the snow of Mount Kilimanjaro despite living in itchy-sticky sunny Singapore – says she has become stuck in mid-sentence, not knowing whether it is more choices at NTU or more choice at NTU (the longwinded full name is Nanyang Technological University).

She also asks whether theres a reason for choosing one over the other.

Nothing flatters me more than to be asked to adjucate in grammar. So, without hesitation, without even the nudge of a doubt, I reply:

Dear Eileen,

At NTU, all the choices suck. Between mediocre engineering and pseudo-communications subjects, there are few good choices in the boondocks of western Singapore where this university reigns in splendid mediocrity.

Luckily for us grammar gurus, English rules and grammar are so tricky that we can make good money writing, lecturing and navigating lesser mortals out of the semantic labyrinth.

The question here is about countable and non-countable nouns. Is choice a discrete, countable noun? Is there a plural form called choices? We know there are more than one choice, and we know we can count the number of choices, however limited, in life, except when we get married and all choices (mates, for instance) are suddenly closed to us.

When using the adjective more to describe a countable noun, we have to use the plural form of the noun, e.g. more apples, more oranges, more choices, and also more difficulties in making the right choice. Short story writer O Henry, once wrote about a country where the gold comes in plural quantities but in order to survive there, you need to carry a couple of Martini Henrys (today of course they are collectors’ items).

When using more to describe abstract, non-countable nouns, we need to convert such nouns to something countable by adding a countable modifier in front.

We cant say, there are more kindnesses or more sunshines. Instead, we say we can see more ACTS of kindness in a kampong than in the business district. There are more HOURS of sunshine in summer than in winter.

But to complicate matters, we know money is countable (except when we are jobless and there are no dollar bills to count) but there is no plural form for money even though we spend most of our waking hours counting (imaginary) money.

Actually, there is a plural form for money – monies, but over the centuries, most people, being poor, have only singular not plural monies, hence monies is now rarely used.

What about water, a favourite with folks in Hong Kong?

Hongkongers who think water sounds like money in Cantonese (sui), will always welcome more water, preferably a cash flow streaming into their house.

Happiness is a positive cash flow, observes the Ribald Confucius.

The conclusion is that English-speaking natives – those from (no-longer Great) Britain – are a fickle lot. After making up complicating rules of syntax, semantics, vocabulary and grammar, they then proceed, on a whim, to create so many exceptions to the rules that the non-natives become demented when learning the lingo.

Confooosed? Go and read something else on the Contents Page.