Grammar Bite #22—Use of ‘pieces’ and ‘sets’

21 June 2012

 

As many of you know, I live in Hong Kong. So, many of the grammatical mistakes I see result from Chinese to English ‘crossovers’.

 

One of those crossovers is the misuse of pieces and sets.

 

Here are some examples:

We want to order 25 pieces of sofa.

Please send us 10 sets of computer.

 

In Chinese, nearly every common noun has a ‘classifier’ word, similar to the English words ‘piece’ or ‘set’.

 

The nearest English equivalent to classifiers include words that we use with mass or non-countable nouns:

·      a slice of cake

·      a piece of furniture

·      a loaf of bread

·      some coffee

·      a bar of chocolate

 

With singular countable nouns, like ‘sofa’ and ‘computer’, don’t use determiners like ‘some’ or ‘piece’.

 

Let’s look at how to correct the two examples above.

 

We want to order 25 pieces of sofa.

You can say ‘a piece of furniture’, because ‘furniture’ is a non-countable noun. However, ‘sofa’ is a countable noun (and a specific type of furniture), so you can’t say ‘25 pieces of sofa’.

 

To correct this sentence, say, We want to order 25 sofas. (And if you only want one sofa, say, ‘We want to order a sofa’.)

 

Please send us 10 sets of computer.

When you get a computer, it includes several things, including the monitor, the CPU, the keyboard, mouse and cables. This seems like a ‘set’. But you don’t order computers as a set. You order a computer – and then check to see what parts are included with it.

 

To correct this sentence, say Please send us 10 computers. And then specify exactly what you want included, for example, an extended keyboard and a trackball.

 

Note: With the plural forms  (sofas, computers), you can also use ‘some’. For example: Some sofas are on sale at the shop. We have some computers in our office that are obsolete.

 

 

 

 

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