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lunes, 6 de abril de 2015

English Tips for Spanish Lawyers (vii)

Por Nick Potter


In this series we look at real-life examples of the most common mistakes in English by native Spanish lawyers. These and lots more invaluable tips are available in a new e-book/paperback, here: 50 English Tips for Spanish Professionals.

the Uncountables


Grammatical terms can be rather confusing. Dangling participles sound more like an embarrassing medical condition than parts of a sentence. Uncountable nouns, however, are exactly what it says on the tin – nouns that cannot be counted. This means they cannot start with “a/an” or end in “s”.

Question: Which ONE of A – F below is correct?


A Certain properties derived from enforcement of the mortgage securing the Loans (the “Collaterals”) will also be sold
B Part of this taxable income could be reduced through depreciations and financial expenses
C Interests are paid on the last day of each interest period
D We are working in the best interests of our client
E The compensations paid to employees under the Restructuring Agreement
F The Parties shall negotiate an appropriate compensation

Before you read the answer, remember:


What are countable and uncountable nouns? Many nouns are countable – you can bake five muffins (yes please!) or download 10 songs (legally, of course). Uncountable or mass nouns are substances and concepts that we cannot divide into individual elements. We cannot "count" them. You cannot make “three foods” or listen to “four musics”.

We do not use the indefinite article a/an with uncountable nouns or add an “s” to indicate a plural.

We cannot say "an information" or “informations".

Some nouns can be countable or uncountable:
  • He earns a good income (countable – a particular case)
  • An increase in income will cause demand to rise (uncountable – income in general)
We usually treat uncountable nouns as singular. We use a singular verb:
  • Average household income is higher in London
Other everyday uncountables include words like petrol, pressure and weather. These are also sustantivos incontables in Spanish: gasolina, presión, and tiempo.

Here’s the thing though: many words that are countable in Spanish are uncountable in English.

These include a number of terms often used in the business and financial world, like interest and compensation.

Another example is evidence (“una prueba” is possible in Spanish, but you cannot say “an evidence” or “another evidence”). Also: remuneration, infrastructure, insurance.

 So:


Only D is correct. The other examples all contained uncountable nouns – so the use of “a/an” or “s” to indicate a plural was wrong:

A Certain properties derived from enforcement of the mortgage securing the Loans (the “Collaterals”Collateral”) will also be sold
B Part of this taxable income could be reduced through depreciations depreciation and financial expenses
C Interests are Interest is paid on the last day of each interest period
D We are working in the best interests of our client [CORRECT]
E The compensations compensation paid to employees under the Restructuring Agreement
F The Parties shall negotiate an appropriate compensation

When is interest uncountable?


Interest is an uncountable noun when referring to the money charged on borrowings or late payments. Intereses devengados means accrued interest, not interests.

This is a very common mistake by Spanish speakers. Another is to say “a compensation”. The equivalent Spanish noun is countable; the English is not.

Interest is countable, for example, when referring to investments or a legal concern, title, or right in property:
  • Declaration of directors' interests under the Companies Act 2006
  • A stakeholder is any person, group or institution with an interest in the project

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