LINGUIST List 12.1694

Sat Jun 30 2001

Qs: Noun Class of 'Benefit'

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  1. Carolyn Kinney, benefit vs. benefits (insurance, etc.)

Message 1: benefit vs. benefits (insurance, etc.)

Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2001 00:26:25 -0400
From: Carolyn Kinney <>
Subject: benefit vs. benefits (insurance, etc.)

I'm being asked to write a language policy prescribing use of a pair of
words for my employer. This is a bit different fgrom the usual queries on
Linguist, but I think it fits. Help appreciated!

I work in the Human Resources office for a large organization. The org
offers benefits to employees, or, put another way, it offers benefit
programs to employees (e.g, health insurance, life insurance, etc.)

 I've been asked to write a policy statement on proper use of "benefit"
vs. "benefits." I've made lists of every instance of either form in
everything written by the office over the last few years. This is what I've

 -Sometimes it's obviously a singular/plural difference: the specific
benefit chosen vs. the first two benefits offered, learn about their
 -Sometimes it's a program proper name: XYZ Benefit Program BUT
cafeteria-style benefits program//
 -sometimes there's no seeming pattern: comprehensive benefit program BUT
civilian benefits program, total benefits package//
 -and these I don't understand: Social Security benefit you receive BUT
SocSec benefits may be reduced//
 any benefit payable BUT care benefits I receive//
 I can receive the benefit BUT if you die before receiving any benefits//

 Admittedly, these were all written before a policy was established (most
pairs were written by the same person, or at least in the same document or
paragraph). But the policy I come up with needs to reflect
 (at least to some extent) prevailing practice. I'm having trouble finding
the pattern. For a while I thought I was working with a non-count noun
(benefit) that occasionally has a count form (benefits) on the pattern of
difficulty/difficulties -- but "benefit" as non-count has a slightly
different connotation (they got no benefit from that) than "benefit" in the
sense used here (they got their health benefit checks/ they got their health

 Benefit/benefits does not fit easily into any of Quirk and Greenbaum's noun
classes. It comes closest to class 2 (e.g. bottle):
 I saw *bottle // the bottle // a bottle // *some bottle // bottles
 We offer *benefit // the benefit // a benefit // *some benefit // benefits

 But actually the examples I've found are "We offer a benefit(s) program"
not just "we offer a benefit"

 Any suggestions as to pattern or accepted use very welcome! My policy
statement is due on Monday.

 Thank you!

Carolyn Kinney
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