'An avalanche of mail'? - it should be 'mails', shouldn't it?

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1

I came across this example on WordWeb while going through the meaning of the word 'avalanche'.

the program brought an avalanche of mail (Just like "a group of man men").

I'm quite sure it should be mails. Kindly confirm.

Maulik V

Posted 2014-07-02T11:56:39.787

Reputation: 66 188

2

Not to be confused with an avalanche of males, which is correctly pluralized.

– Esoteric Screen Name – 2014-07-02T12:10:25.803

@EsotericScreenName lol. I certainly got confused but with emails. :) I was just concerned about putting 'plural'. J.R. clarified it. – Maulik V – 2014-07-02T12:11:15.540

2The count noun for mail is letter. The count noun for email is email. So it could be an avalanche of emails or an avalanche of letters of an avalanche of email, but not an avalanche of mail. – Peter Shor – 2014-07-02T16:13:51.150

Answers

14

Definitely not.

Mail is a uncountable noun, as in: "There is a lot of mail in that mailbag."

Therefore, it would be an avalanche of mail (but an avalanche of letters).

We would say, "Would you please take this mail down to the mailbox?" even if there were three pieces of mail to take.

J.R.

Posted 2014-07-02T11:56:39.787

Reputation: 108 123

Ah, I thought it mails i.e. emails. I lead the content department in an IT company. Recently we had an event and we really got an avalanche of emails. That's the fact! – Maulik V – 2014-07-02T12:07:06.390

3In this context either email or emails would be fine. But definitely not mails. – Mark Pattison – 2014-07-02T12:22:43.497

@MarkPattison Since the postal service is almost on the edge of its extinction, You mail me the documents is taken as emailing the documents. That's what I thought first. You get a lot of emails after a successful event/program. In addition, we recently went through this pleasing experience so I was driven away a bit! :) – Maulik V – 2014-07-02T12:53:10.587

1@MarkPattison But I disagree using email in this context. Though email could be a mass noun, but when it follows an avalanche, it should be counted as a 'countable noun' i.e. emails. – Maulik V – 2014-07-02T12:55:10.583

5Maulik - I'm inclined to agree with @MarkP in this case. The word emails is sometimes used to mean email messages, so "an avalanche of emails" sounds okay to me, even though "an avalanche of mails" does not. That said, email can refer to everything in the inbox, not just individual messages, so "an avalanche of email" sounds okay as well. I don't think both words always function the same way. Of course, email is a much newer word than mail, so the dust probably hasn't fully settled on this issue yet. – J.R. – 2014-07-02T14:12:45.673

9@MaulikV Why should an avalanche of X require that X be a count noun? What is a literal avalanche but an avalanche of snow (mass noun). Either a mass noun or count noun is fine here; email can be used as either, but mail, even when referring to email, can only be a mass noun. – WinnieNicklaus – 2014-07-02T14:41:19.463

1@WinnieNicklaus "Either a mass noun or count noun is fine here; email can be used as either, but mail, even when referring to email, can only be a mass noun." So you're saying that it's fine to say "He sent me three emails yesterday" but not "He sent me three electronic mails yesterday"? That doesn't make sense. For snail mail, I agree, since a single item of that kind of mail is referred to as a letter, rather than "a mail". – David Richerby – 2014-07-02T14:58:21.060

3@DavidRicherby: I not aware of anyone who refers to "an email" as "an electronic mail". But if they did then it would be OK for them to say "three electronic mails". If the etymology went "mail" (mass noun) -> "electronic mail" (mass noun) -> "email" (mass noun) -> "email" (both mass noun and count noun meaning "email message"), then there's no "electronic mail" (count noun). More immediately, since nobody calls it electronic mail there's not even really any "electronic mail" (mass noun) ;-) – Steve Jessop – 2014-07-02T15:24:26.417

I believe the "count noun" version of email is "message(s)". – James – 2014-07-02T17:48:02.970

@WinnieNicklaus I meant either it should be a count noun or a mass noun but not a singular term for sure. – Maulik V – 2014-07-03T04:38:28.117

@DavidRicherby Exactly. We often heard 'send me an email' and 'I'm off of the Internet. God knows my inbox must be flooded with emails.* And as I said, today, when postcards are not in practice, send me mail does refer to send me an email. – Maulik V – 2014-07-03T04:48:01.067

1@MaulikV - That's twice now you've referred to the demise of the post office. I wouldn't say that "send me mail" means "send me an email" by default. Maybe I'm too set in my ways, but I still say "email" when I mean email. Sometimes I'll use the term snail mail when I want to make it clear that I won't be sending something electronically. – J.R. – 2014-07-03T08:16:27.327

@MaulikV Mass nouns always take the singular form in English. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun

– WinnieNicklaus – 2014-07-07T15:02:34.600

@WinnieNicklaus - Let's not say "always". As that Wiki link says, Some mass nouns can be used in English in the plural to mean "more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity" – J.R. – 2014-07-07T22:53:13.303