17 November 2013


I just saw this sign outside a construction site near Jalan Muara. (Awas means 'caution'.)

It would be more standard to have 'danger' rather than 'dangers'. But why? After all, 'dangers' also occurs in standard English. Indeed, it crops up 5865 times in the COCA corpus. So what is the difference between the mass noun 'danger' and the countable noun 'dangers'?

I could not immediately think of the answer. We can usually detect a difference in meaning between a mass noun and a count noun: 'glass', refers to the substance, while 'glasses' are either cups or spectacles; 'stone' is the substance, while 'stones' are little round things; and 'wine' is the generic item, while 'wines' are types of wine. But 'danger' versus 'dangers'?

No wonder the count/mass distinction is so fragile in World Englishes!