Individuating the Abstract


  • Scott Grimm


Despite the vast count-mass literature, determining why an abstract noun is countable (arrival) or uncountable (happiness) remains largely unexplored territory. This paper examines several proposals which attempt to derive the countability of deverbal nouns from some aspect of the derivational source, including the well-known hypothesis by Mourelatos (1978) relating countability to aktionsart: nouns derived from states/activities are uncountable, while those derived from accomplishments/achievements are countable. Broad-scale corpus work shows that such hypotheses are not borne out. A second study of abstract nouns from four different semantic domains (bodily states and mental states (sleep), mental properties (intelligence), behavioral properties (kindness) and psych-nouns (irritation, fear)) demonstrates that the noun’s interpretation in a given context determines its countability, in turn influenced by a complex set of factors including lexicalization patterns, ontological contrasts, and world knowledge.

How to Cite

Grimm, S. (2019). Individuating the Abstract. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 18, 182–200. Retrieved from