Countable?Uncountable? "Pension"?

Hi, 

I'm studying English in Japan.

One of my friends asked me "the word "pension" is a countable noun. Why there is no "s" in the following sentence? There must be many people, shouldn't it be "their pensions?"

I couldn't give her any answer. 

Please somebody help me to understand why there is no plural "s"?

This job is another example of a large Government Bureaucracy, like the post office, that hires people willing to " do what they are told " and wait until they can retire and collect their pension.

5 Answers

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  • 1 month ago

    The word "pension" is certainly countable, but in your sample sentence, we can interpret the meaning as "the people wait to retire and [each] collect their [own] pension".

  • 1 month ago

    When each person in a group has one of something, you often can use either singular or plural. They all wore a hat. They all wore hats. Pensions is definitely countable.

  • 1 month ago

    It could actually be "pensions" plural in that sentence.  The problem arises in the interpreted use of the generic singular "they/their" (as in one, or an individual, or even as some say "you/your") rather than an actually intentional plural. In effect, we do not speak of "one and his" but "they and their" when we mean a single generic person.  Some still use "One" as in "One should not eat while resting his elbows on the table" (or "you shouldn't eat with your arms on the table" even if they do not mean you, specifically, but really "anyone at all"), so you could say "people should not eat while resting their elbows on the table" and still really only mean one single person, a generic person, by "People" and "they" and "their".

    So, the real question is whether "they" in that sentence is intended to refer to people, many individuals, rather than people, a generic person. If you mean many individuals by "People", each person could have his or her ("their"; generic singular "their") own particular pension, so they all collect their own pensions.  People collect their pensions. They do not all share one pension. 

    On the other hand, it might be a case of generic person. People in general can collect a pension, so people can be spoken of, generically, as collecting their pension, just like we can say "well-trained dogs wait for their dinner" (not dinners, because we are not saying each and every well-trained dog waits for each one's own dinner, but instead that the general dog, when well-trained, will wait for dinner). 

    the difference lies in whether the sentence is speaking of the generic person, an individual that is not specified, not a person, not the person, but people (in general), versus all individuals in plural.  In effect, whether you choose singular or plural for pension, you impose what idea of "people/they/their" you are employing.  Singular pension means generic person is meant.  plural pension means many individuals are meant by people.

    Dogs bark (not all dogs, but dog in general). A dog barks (one dog but not a specific dog).  The dog barks (a very specific one dog).  Many dogs bark (more than one dog).

    The decision of singular versus plural also has to consider if one person can collect multiple pensions or many persons can all share a single pension, but neither of those options apply in that sentence specifically.  It is possible to speak of a generic person's hands, say (there is more than one hand even if only one person), or generic person (people) sharing some common resource stated in the singular (like a common meal that they each get part of; they sat down to eat their dinner).

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    In British English indeed 'people collect their pension' - no plural.  Or possibly 'collect their pensions'.  There is no clear-cut distinction, it is a matter of style or habit or which school they went to etc.

    In English the words 'they' and 'them' and 'their' are very variable in usage, sometimes they are definitely plural, sometimes definitely singular (when speaking about an unspecified person) and sometimes rather in between!

    And that is without thinking about 'gender issues'.   Some people who do not wish to be identified as definitely male or definitely female are trying to insist on being addressed as 'they' and 'them', which feels very strange to me.

    Sorry to be so vague and confusing - welcome to the English language as it is mangled by native speakers!

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  • 1 month ago

    Pension is countable. 

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