General Writing and Grammar Help/uncountable nouns



I am in the process of translating a Buddhist text from Tibetan to English. Some of the text uses rather colloquial language and I have discovered I have a habit of using past tense words in a present continuous context. To give an example: "Look at him SAT there wasting away."

To me that sentence seems fine and the feeling of it would change if the word 'seated' were to be used. My friends who are helping me, however, insist that it is wrong usage of the word 'sat'.

If you could please help me clarify this I would appreciate it greatly.

ANSWER: Hello Kunga

You have raised an issue which is a problem even for native English speakers

There is a difference between 'sat', 'seated' , and 'sitting'

This statement should be

"Look at him sitting there, wasting away."

'Sat' would be used in this expression

"The hostess sat him in the most important place at the table"


"He was seated at the table by the hostess"

I hope that helps

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you for your quick response and especially for clearing my confusion regarding the previous question.

If you don't mind I would also like to ask your help in clearing another area of confusion for me and that is uncountable nouns. I have two examples that have cropped up recently:

1. "Even dreams will be an assortment of DREAD." I thought that this was a correct sentence but my friend thinks that it doesn't work to have a plural (assortment) and a singular (dread) in this manner. I thought I could get away with it because 'dread' is an uncountable noun. However, I wouldn't put my house on it.

2. "The many HARMS of afflictive mind states." Can 'harms' be used in this way. I have seen it being used and have used it myself recently but am unsure whether it is correct.

Thank you in advance for your time and help. Don't worry I won't keep bombarding you with questions. I'll make this the last for a while as you must be busy.

p.s if there is a difference between British and American English, I am trying to be consistent in using British English.

Hello Kunga

1, Your friend is right - dread is an uncountable noun.

"Even dreams will contains various forms of dread" - would be the nearest possible.

2. No - 'harm' is not used in a plural form.

"The harm caused by afflictive mind states" - would be the nearest.

I hope that helps

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I can answer questions on English language, grammar, writing skills, and study skills. I am particularly experienced in the writing skills required for academic essays, term papers, reports, dissertations, and post-graduate theses.


I have forty years experience as a tutor and as the author of books on writing and study skills. For thirty years I was a tutor for the Workers' Educational Association, which specialises in courses for adult students and preparing mature students for university. I was also a tutor for the Open University between 1975 and 2010. During that time I have also written a number of books on writing and study skills. In the last ten years or more I have specialised in creating computer-aided learning materials and online learning courses.

"Making the Grade" (Manchester University Press) 1990 "Studying Fiction" (Manchester University Press) 1991 "Marking Essays" (Clifton Press) 1993 "Revision and Examinations" (Clifton Press) 1993 "Writing Essays" (Clifton Ress) 1996 "Study Skills" (Clifton Press) 1996 "Electronic Writing" (Clifton Press) 1996 "Improve your Writing Skills" (Clifton Press) 2010 "Writing Essays 3.0" (Clifton Press) 2008 [computer program] "English Language 3.0" (Clifton Press) 2008 [computer program] "Study Skills 2.0" (Clifton Press) 2008 [computer program]

My first degree was in mechanical engineering (HNC). I then switched to literary studies and philosophy. My second degree was a BA in English and American Literature (from Manchester University - UK). I also have an MA in Comparative Literary Studies, and my doctoral thesis (PhD) was in the relationship between literature and politics.

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