Wise old owl – replies and feedback

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Wise Old Owl

A reply, but not an information or a feedback

One of my students asked me why it’s ok to say “I received a reply”, but not “I received a feedback”, so I thought we’d look at some questions around indefinite articles and uncountable nouns today. It’s not as bad as it sounds!

When learning English, you learn that “a” comes before things that begin with consonant sounds such as “a horse” or “a cup of coffee”, but anything that begins with a vowel sound needs “an”. So we have “an apple” or “an electric guitar”. Guitar starts with a letter G, but the “a or an” has to match the word that comes immediately after it. In this case, that’s an adjective, electric, and the adjective starts with a vowel sound.

Generally that’s ok though. It’s much easier than languages like German, where you have to work out the gender of a word before you can even say “a”!

It’s more difficult for students whose native language doesn’t use indefinite articles at all. They have to remember that even if they can do it in their own language, you have to say “I saw a cat” and not just “I saw cat”.

The question I was asked though came up because different languages treat words differently. In English, information and feedback are not singular nouns. They are uncountable nouns and therefore don’t have a plural form. You can have a feedback form or a piece of information, but you can’t have a feedback or an information. You can have some information or some feedback.

Similarly, you can’t add an S to these words to make them plural, because they are already treated as plural. So you can’t have feedbacks or informations.

Therefore, it’s fine to say “we have received positive feedback about our recent changes to the website”. You don’t need “a” here because we treat it in the same way as you would another plural noun such as responses or emails.

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