3

In English, information is uncountable, so an information is incorrect, but I often see the French equivalent une information (as in donner une information).

Why is this correct? Should I prefer the equivalent of some information, e.g. quelques informations or des informations?

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    In French, "information" is countable, so all of those are correct. "Une information" is "a piece of information," just like "un conseil" is "a piece of advice." – MorganFR May 25 '16 at 13:32
9

In French there is no notion as strong as the English uncountable nature of certain things. If you can think about a way to count something, you can speak about it as a countable.

For example, you can separate information in pieces of information, and it makes it countable: in French you say "une information" for "a piece of information".

Same goes for bread for example. Bread can be considered as an uncoutable and you will say "Je vais acheter du pain" if you are going to buy some bread but don't know exactly how much. However if you want someone to bring you exactly two loafs (actually bread in France is not in loaf shape, but let's keep it simple) you say "Apporte-moi deux pains".

One some case the countable and uncountable meanings are differents, like for the word "eau" (water). "de l'eau" means "some water", and no one would think about counting it, however there are expressions as "entre deux eaux" or "perdre les eaux" that refers to specific meanings.

  • 1
    Actually, “a water” is idiomatic English (at least in some places, I'm not sure if it's idiomatic everywhere) for “a serving (glass/bottle) of water”. This one doesn't work as is in French — one can order “une eau minérale” but not “une eau”. On the other hand French allows expressions like “une eau de source” for a particular type of water. This works for bread in English: “an unleavened bread”. – Gilles 'SO nous est hostile' May 25 '16 at 15:15
  • Your second sentence is incorrect. in you makes no sense; however, I can't edit as that's the only error I see. – Mason H. Hatfield May 25 '16 at 20:41
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    Yes, but incoherent phrases should be corrected. – Mason H. Hatfield May 26 '16 at 0:04
3

Anne has a nice, elaborate description, but these type of classifications (count vs. noncount, but also genders, alienable vs. inalienable possession, regular vs. irregular, count words, deponency etc.) really come down, ultimately, to arbitrariness. Yes, there may be historical factors (although this just pushes the question to the parent languages), but there is really no all-encompassing explanation, and asking why one language goes one way and another goes another way usually is no more constructive than asking why tehre are different languages in the first place.

1

In French there are very few words that are uncountable. I can think of sand. You can't say "a sand / un sable". However you could say "a grain of sand / un grain de sable" or "a quicksand/ des sables mouvants". Note that in the last case the French still use plural.

  • On peut très bien dire Un sable blanc. – Toto Jun 13 '17 at 16:14
  • On parle alors implicitement du type de sable. En parlant du sable en lui même, il faut dire du sable blanc. Comme l'on dirait une eau tranquille/des eaux tranquilles pour parler d'une étendue d'eau. – Antoine Horvat Jun 14 '17 at 8:27

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