Is there anything characteristic about the meaning of a count noun?

In English, some common nouns, like cat, can be used in the singular and in the plural, while others, like water, are invariable. Moreover, nouns like cat can be employed with numerals like one and two and determiners like a, many and few, but neither with much nor little . On the contrary, nouns like milk can be used with determiners like much and little, but neither with a, one nor many. These two types of nouns constitute two morphosyntactic sub-classes of English common nouns; cf. for instance Gillon (1992). They have been respectively called count nouns and mass nouns. In many languages, notably Romance and Germanic languages, one can similarly identify two morphosyntactic subclasses of common nouns, nouns of one class admitting singular and plural number, and nouns of the other being invariable in grammatical number.1 The question we want to address in this paper is one in lexical semantics: Is there anything characteristic about the meaning of a count noun? This question has occupied the mind of many linguists and philosophers. It is comparable in intent to: Can one give a purely semantic definition of verbs? Four proposals have been discussed in the literature.
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