Is Software a Mass Noun?
A reader noticed the following statement about the unauthorized use of pre-installed software programs on computers sold by hardware suppliers:
…in most of the cases, these computers are loaded with unlicensed softwares.
The reader asks,
isn’t software neither singular nor plural but a class?
The most common use of the word software is as a mass noun. Another term for “mass noun” is “uncountable noun.”
Abstract nouns such as courage, cowardice, intelligence, and happiness are mass nouns because they cannot be combined with an indefinite article. For example, one can’t speak of “a courage” or “a cowardice.” Mass nouns cannot be preceded by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement: “a ton of coffee,” “a modicum of intelligence.”
Mass nouns that name aggregates of people or things: the Fifth Estate, the 99%, the proletariat are also called “collective nouns.”
In the context of the example provided by the reader, the word should be software. The computers are plural, but software is being used with the meaning “programs and procedures required to enable a computer to perform a specific task.” For example,
Why Software Is Eating The World” –The Wall Street Journal
I’ve seen comments that declare categorically that software must be used only as an uncountable noun, but English usage is uneasy with “musts” and “onlies.” Depending upon context, mass nouns often occur as countable nouns; for example:
He is losing his hair. (uncountable)
Are these cat hairs in my soup? (countable)
The United States is a big importer of coffee. (uncountable)
We’ll have two coffees, please. (countable)
Softwares is out there. Some software providers incorporate the plural into their names, for example, “JJ Softwares.” I saw this headline at Forbes: “15 Marketing Softwares That Can Boost Your Business.” The article is about several software programs, so one can argue that the plural softwares is justified. On the other hand, some writers would prefer to phrase the topic as “Fifteen Software Programs That Can Boost Your Business.”
Bottom line: Treat software as an uncountable noun, unless you have a strong reason not to.
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