Submitted by mandi on June 15, 2007

Correspondence

A coworker and I are arguing over the word “correspondence”. I say it’s already plural, therefore an “s” at the end is unnecessary and incorrect. She says that because she was working on multiple letters, it is “correspondences”.

Who’s right?

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@jayles - I stand corrected. The Channel 5 one is disappointing, admittedly, but look carefully at your second example - It really means "the five things about Linux you aren't allowed to discuss", he isn't "discussing about Linux". So I'd say the second one was OK.

This one from the Washington Post is similar - "White men have much to discuss about mass shootings" - the "about the mass shootings" goes with "much" not "discuss". There are a few examples of 'discuss about something', but a lot of them turn out to be of this type.

A quick look suggests though that this might be standard in Indian English. Out of the ten examples on the first page at Google Books for "discuss about", one is of the sort I've been talking about, one is uncheckable, one is about the grammatical error, six are published in India:

"Discuss about the advantages and disadvantages of management by objectives" - Principles Of Management, by V.S.Bagad

"Discuss about various devices for the transportation of solids" - Mechanical Operations Fundamental Principles and Applications, by Kiran D. Patil

"Discuss about steps in root canal treatment" - Essentials of Operative Dentistry, by I. Anand Sherwood

"Discuss about the factors determining an effective span of management." - Principles of Management (a different one), by K. Anbuvelan

"Discuss about the forest resources and their uses." - Elements of Environmental Science and Engineering, by P. Meenakshi

"Briefly discuss about the Gandhi Peace Peace Prize" - How To Do Well In Gds And Interviews, by T.I.M.E (India)

Admittedly one was published in the USA, but the author is a certain Firdos Alam Khan.

http://www.google.com/search?q=itbusinessedge.c...

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channel5.com/shows/the-wright-stuff/clips/richard-madeley-and-panel-discuss-about-the-british-economy

itbusinessedge.com/cm/blogs/enderle/the-five-things-you-arent-allowed-to-discuss-about-linux/?cs=16507

Yes, learner problem esp for German-speakers et al. But also a few seemingly native instances if one googles around - and my yoga teacher used it today - "a native-speaker error" I trust.

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@Skeeter Lewis - but I'm in total agreement with you that the language people use is endlessly fascinating: that's why I contribute to this blog. But I prefer to treat it as an observer rather than as a judge.

@jayles - that's on my 'to do' list for my blog - but isn't that more a learner problem?

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You might like to try discussing about "discuss about"

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Will, we'll have to agree to differ. The language that people use, both in speech and writing, is, as I said above, endlessly fascinating.

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@Skeeter - let's get things in perspective. I teach foreigners English, so obviously their language is important to me. My children's language would be important to me. But how somebody else talks isn't really. Of course there are things that make me wince, but then so does very formal English, as I hinted at in my previous post. Other people's language is only 'wrong' according to the standards we were brought up with, which is probably Standard English, of one stripe or another, and has often changed in the meantime.

Much, much more annoying to me are those busy-bodies who post comments on somebody's so-called 'error' (which usually turns out not to have been one anyway). They literally make me see red. (And before anyone complains that I'm using using literally when I mean metaphorically, no, I'm using literally as an idiomatic intensifier - just as if I had said - they really make me see red - funny how nobody complains about really!).

And when I spoke of 'infinitesimal importance' I deliberately said in comparison to what else is happening elsewhere in the world, just as that professor put it in the context of the fate of the world. If you hear somebody talking of having ''correspondences with various people' it may grate a bit, but it hurts absolutely nobody. There are much more important things in life to get bothered about. And there are so many aspects of English that are much more interesting than bothering about the language people use.

Like checking out judgement. I imagine I've always spelt it the longer way, but I've never thought about it much. Burchfield (in Fowler 3) calls it 'the prevailing spelling in BrE' (except in legal language) and if you enter judgment into Oxford Dictionaries Online it automatically redirects to judgement.

But the shorter version is in fact more common in the British National Corpus, with 3217 judgment to 2441 judgement, which seems to fit with this Ngram graph comparing AmE and BrE (although that could be because of legal use). The difference between the two in BrE is certainly much closer than in AmE.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=ju...

What is clear though, is that it doesn't matter which you use (in BrE, at least).

Fowler himself prefers judgement (for etymological reasons), and says that we are all used to it from the Authorised and Revised versions of the King James Bible. So it came as somewhat of a surprise that many of the online versions of the KJV use the spelling 'judgment'. However, I've found a version of the English Hexapla comparing facsimiles of six major English versions of the Bible from 1380 to 1611 (with original spellings), and found Matthew 27:19, which has the line 'And the next day, sitting in the judgement seat, commanded Paul to be brought'. Wycliffe's bible doesn't mention the word judgement, but all the other five do, all with the longer spelling. So it looks as though Fowler was right.

http://books.google.pl/books?id=-WwKAQAAMAAJ&am... (at the top of each column; see also the top of the next page).

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Will - one can make judgments about English usage so long as one's comments are not ad hominem. I agree that it's bad manners to correct others.
The language of others, though, is not of infinitesimal importance to me. I find it endlessly fascinating.
By the way - 'judgment' or judgement'? The latter is more usual in British English but I have a fondness for the former because it was the spelling used by Dr. Johnson, that stalwart layer down of the law.

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@Skeeter - 'does it really matter?' - the quote I followed that with should have put that in context. Yes it matters to me what language I use, but compared to what else is happening in the world, the language of others is of infinitesimal importance.

Of course everyone can make their own judgement as to what words to use, but I prefer to leave the judgement of the language of others to the pedants. I find it much more interesting to observe how language works.

It's interesting that you will rarely hear this sort of 'judgement' of other people's language from many of those who are professionally involved with English: linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, EFL teachers etc.

What's more, many of those who criticise the language of others (very bad manners in my book, however refined they like to think themselves) often do so from a pretty limited knowledge of grammar, of the different varieties of English, or the history of the language.

Stan Carey quotes the example of scientist Ed Jong, who wrote a fascinating piece in Discover Magazine about how birds navigate, where he included this sentence:

'Some birds can sense the Earth’s magnetic field and orientate themselves with the ease of a compass needle.'

At first, the number of comments complaining about 'orientate' almost outnumbered those commenting on the science. Yet, in Britain, at least, orientate is a perfectly standard verb (it's the one I prefer), of which Burchfield, writing in the third edition of Fowler's says 'one can have no quarrel with anyone who decides to use the longer of the two words'.

One off these know-it-all commenters had said that the shorter verb was always better than the longer one. So why is it, as Carey pointed out, that Americans use 'burglarize' when there's the perfectly good 'burgle'?

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Will - interesting question: 'does it really matter?'
If these issues simply don't matter, then English becomes a relativist free-for-all and judgment is impossible.

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@Skeeter - there are quite a few words out there I don't like and simply don't use. For example, I personally desperately try and avoid things like 'whom' and the impersonal pronoun 'one' - which just goes to show that one man's meat is another man's poison. But in the end does it really matter? This is professor of linguistics at the University of Pennysylvania talking about 'login' as a verb (as opposed to 'log in'):

"I probably wouldn’t use “loginned” or “loginning” myself, but not much in the fate of the world seems to depend on the question of whether these usages catch on or not."

And from an article by a self-confessed word nerd at Good Magazine:

"Even if a word bugs the living crap out of you, it’s still a word. Just ignore the small percentage of words that are annoying and focus on the enormous, fertile possibilities of English to create new words in any given situation or sentence. The fertility of English should be enjoyed."

These were both from a post by Stan Carey, writer of one of the most highly regarded linguistics blogs - Sentence First, which, coincidentally, I had just been reading (warning - highly descriptivist material):

http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/not-a...

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http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/behavior

The plural seems to be used more in a "behavioral" context.
Words are often both countable and non-pluralizeable, with a slight change in meaning. When countable "behavior" suggests we are looking at each observed event discretely.
Compare the word "work" and "works" as a noun,

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When I make a dogmatic statement such as "such and such a word does not exist," I suppose I mean, "Well if it does, it flipping well shouldn't." Grumpy old man syndrome.

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Point taken, Will.
The plurals that irritate are words such as 'behaviours' used in certain specialized fields jnstead of 'forms of behaviour'. Cant usages tend to seep into the spoken language.

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Whoops - A book by Cornelius Walker, republished in 2003.

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@Skeeter - as a teacher I've learnt that 'never' is a dangerous word, and the same goes for 'does not exist'. See xavier_onassis's comment and jayles's reference (it's quite often used in astrology, it would appear, but also in linguistics - 'Some Old English graphemic-phonemic correspondences').

So now for some 'correspondence' trivia:

There's a prize-winning novel 'Private Correspondences' by Trudy Lewis, Professor of English at the University of Missouri, the title probably being a play on words (it does start with a letter, but also seems to be about connections).

And perhaps also a play on words, there's a long poem 'Correspondences: A Family History in Letters.' by the American-British poet Anne Stevenson.

There's also a book by Cornelius that seems to have first been published in 1876 as 'The Life and Correspondence of Rev. William Sparrow' . But in a facsimile edition of 2003l, it's Correspondences, for some strange reason. (Amazon sell it under both titles)

I'm not really erudite, I just checked in Google Books. But in essence, I agree.

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The word 'correspondences' does not exist in English.
One can refer to the 'correspondence' that one had with Joe Blow. That can refer to one or more letters.

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I could not get an answer to my request from the above debates about the plural use of correspondence by adding s

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Lastronin and Wordsmithy, why advise people to say letters when they intend correspondences? While all letters are correspondences, not all correspondences are letters.

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Forgive me, I should add that "lastronin" [of whose ceased indentured servitude's validity I question... :P ;-) ] has also made a very helpful and description; however, I question the use of "correspondences" as referencing plural letters over one or more exchanges, just as he put so well: "Just say 'letters'," and get on with it.
I questions this BECAUSE there IS a REASON you should just say letters: The letters are the letters, and the act of corresponding is not directly relevant to the number of letters. It isn't necessarily wrong, with this I agree whole-heartedly; however, it is usually USED incorrectly, and therefore: "A WITCH"

Thank you, lastronin for encouraging us to "get on with it."

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ULTIMATELY: Please read in its entirety the entry by xavier_onassis, whose example is so far the best. Based upon the original question, xavier has provided several examples that effectively communicate the usage of the word correspondence with or without its plural form, in both the non-countable sense, and a clearly defined plural noun form. It is not impossible to have a plural of the word correspondence, unless you are referring to letters, mail, etc., and not to the "noun" form of the "verb" to correspond, which obviously has a plural form, if you are referring to multiple cases of somethings or someones corresponding to any number of somethings or someones. (Please indulge me in my use of something and someone in pluralities, as they seem to befit the current topic, although also adding to the general pandemonious chatter)

(Please also indulge me in my use of "pluralities" - as it seems the most fitting word, but, again, it does seem to invoke a sort of ironic havoc upon our discussion)

HOWEVER: Let us take a step back and remind ourselves of both the original question and the majority usage of the word correspondence:

"The House of Parliament acknowledges receipt of correspondence dated July 4, 1776, wherein it is requested that the Sovereignty of the British Commonwealth respond to the previously addressed concerns of mistreatments, misrepresentations, oppressions and general malfeasance, by recognizing the newly-founding peoples in the British-occupied regions of North America, specifically along the North-Eastern portions North of Mexico and South of Canada, as a free and independent Republic, under its own bona fide Sovereignty."

Even if the example were to include the DATE of EVERY OTHER letter, writing, newspaper clipping, or otherwise "correspondence" that was addressed to George III, or the House of Parliament - the word would remain a non-countable, "mass" if you will, word under this context, which is the most generally used and common occasion for the use of this word.

It would never read:

"The Office of King George III, Sovereign over all British Peoples and Nations, acknowledges receipt of correspondences dated 4 July 1776, 17 September 1787, etc. Dot Dot Dot, you get the idea...."

NOR SHOULD it read:

"The Office of King George III, Sovereign over all British Peoples and Nations, acknowledges receipt of a correspondence...."
NOR:
"The Office of King George III, Sovereign over all British Peoples and Nations, acknowledges receipt of the correspondence...."
The example (regarding Boston Tea Party influenced correspondences) that xavier uses, however, does still have the implication of "connections" and not strictly discussing letters, but many letters of "COMMUNICATION" between people, thus multple communications between multiple parties would be just as easily written communication, or correspondence, as it would communications, or correspondences. It is not really describing the letters or mail themselves/itself; rather, it is describing the intangible connection that these letters created, thus you can have plural of such intangible connections.

THERFORE: In this case, "Who's right?": You. In this usage of the word, you would do well to not dilute the general English speaking public with adding an 's' to the end of the word, even when plural letters may be described. It is still "correspondence" - with no 's' at the end. In this case, your co-worker is not describing her correspondence correctly if he/she is describing any number, singular or plural, of letters or mail, etc., etc., as correspondences.

BUT: Your co-worker is actually correct, though indirectly - benefiting from circumstantial accuracy on a subject they, perhaps, have not understood prior to making their assertion.

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correspondences, with an s, because you are talking about THIS correspondence and THAT correspondence, individual units. If you are able to substitute it for the word "communication" as a concept, you would use correspondence.

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What about: "In the event of termination of your contract with our company, you agree to deliver promptly to the company all equipment, materials, software, programs, source codes, diskettes, documents, memorandum, notes, reports, correspondence/ correspondences, lists and the like to the company."
What would it be?

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I am with lastronin.

Many letters are correspondence (mass noun, taking no article and no pluralization). However, an exchange of letters between two people or on a particular topic is a correspondence (note the indefinite article) and several such exchanges would be several correspondences.

I have always assumed that there is no real difference between "fish" as a plural and "fishes." You can use whichever you like. As for "waters," isn't it just one of those odd idioms that get used in a limited number of special expressions like "the waters of Babylon," or going to the spa to "take the waters." It is not clear to me that it functions as a plural at all. Rather it seems to carry the implication that the water is special or exotic in some way.

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I have an additional question in regards to the correspondence question, the phrase "Please find attached a correspondence from Mr. Smith." vs. "Please find attached correspondence from Mr. Smith". In the sense that correspondence is both a singular and plural noun, would the use of "a" be justified in distinguishing the singular correspondence from two or more correspondence? Would this also apply to the phrase "I bought a fish from the store" to distinguish from buying more than one fish?

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Clearly, the water example is not a perfect example, and may illustrate that correspondences is proper.

In fact, however, it may be more appropriate to add an apostrophe because it eliminates this confusion. As in with odd nouns like X410's. or PC's.

Correspondence's. Yes: This makes grammar people annoyed.

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TO Mr.Clay I guess I am one of those individuals then. after reading these comments I am even more confused about the subject .However, I think I will use the good old premise that this word can be used as group or collective noun.

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Obviously Andrew Clay is vocabulary-challenged.

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Who really gives a @#$*!!! Anyone who calls you on such a stupid technicality has issues.

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Re: Porsche's comment back in June 2007:

As far as "mail" goes, it turns out that the English word "mail" gets borrowed by a bunch of other languages (I know of French, Hebrew, and to an extent, Japanese) in order to signify "email," as distinct from the given language's word for "mail." The word gets used in a countable sense, as "email" (like "letter(s)") is a count noun. This is just an aside, of course, as, you're certainly correct, we don't do this in English. Mail is mail, even when there's a lot if it. But the word "email," formally deriving from "mail," can be counted! "Did you get my email? Did you get both my emails?" Funny stuff..

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Depends on personal preference and how the person sees things, emphasizing the action (exchange) or the object (letter)

-correspondence = an exchange of a letter
-correspondence = the collection of letters over one or more exchanges
-correspondences = multiple exchanges (of many letters)
-correspondences = countably many letters over one or more exchanges

To be clear, use "a series of correspondences," where "series" in such contexts is always plural.

Just say "letters" and get it over with. She would say, "I'm working on multiple letters." And the memo would reflect that "The letters will be sent out NLT Friday," which is simple and clear, as opposed "The correspondences will be sent out NLT Friday."

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I have checked several references on usage and style regarding this issue (Bryan Garner, James Kilpatrick, Morton Freeman, and several dictionaries). None were definitive. AO gave an example and asked "What's wrong with that?" My answer: it is an uncommon form of usage and is stilted, bulky, multisyllabic, and will cause readers to balk and/or re-read the sentence. You should not be writing in a manner that causes those reactions in your readers. While "correspondences" may not be technically incorrect (although I personally agree with the many contributors who said the noun is both singular and plural [it is perfectly acceptable to say or write, eg.: "How many different fish are there?]), it should be avoided. If that word does not fit your sentence structure, change the structure to accommodate the use of "correspondence" or use a different noun, e.g.: communications, letters, notes, emails, or other, more precise, (and plural) noun. Sorry I'm so late to your party, here. The subject just arose with my assistant and I was struggling to find authority to back up my preferred usage.

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Actually, if we look up at dictionaries we find that "fish" can be both countable and uncountable. "Correspondence", on the other hand, is just defined as uncountable. I really don't know frequently people use "correspondences" so that we could admit the emergence of a new rule. I mean, if the use is widespread and common, then we could possibly admit that in the future the word would be registered in dictionaries as countable and uncountable. So, it is a matter to see how frequently the "countable version" is used.

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i think correspondence can be used in both singular and plural sense. As an example given in Oxford advanced learner's Dictionary "The editor welcomes correspondence from readers on any subject", it is used in plural sense.

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Xavier-

Great examples! Thanks! Can I ask where the quotes are coming from?

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Let's first put aside the use of "correspondence" to mean "connection," as in "the correspondences between German and English prove that English is a Teutonic language at heart." In that sense, the plural with "s" is necessary and proper.

Turning to "correspondence" in the sense of "one or more exchanges of written communication," I think the use of the plural would be rare, but when needed, justified. "The Boston Tea Party led to the famous correspondence between Washington and Jefferson, but many such correspondences sprang up between pairs of famous men in the wake of that notorious event."

Maybe we can say that one uses the plural only to emphasize the particularity of a set of exchanges.

"We had a heated correspondence for several months in 2000-2001 about Bush's election (or Gore's election, if you will), and another, briefer correspondence in 2004-2005, after Kerry went down in flames. Both correspondences were published together in book form in 2006."

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Ok, so I'm going to posit that English has, in addition to count and mass nouns, mass nouns that can be used as count nouns. I'm pretty sure we are all agreed on this. The question is which of these "correspondence" falls into. Certainly not a count noun, so it's between a mass noun and a mass noun that can be counted. I say it's the latter but most say it's the former. My evidence for my claim is admittedly pretty bad: my intuition as a native English speaker. I wonder if my sense of this word is regional, sociolectic, or what have you. Can anyone give some solid evidence (other than it just "sounding right") for one claim or the other? I'm curious about this. Thanks.

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I would classify "correspondence", in the sense above, as a non-countable noun. I think "correspondences" might be usable in some circumstances, but I can't think of any in which it would be preferable to "correspondence".

Certain words, like "equipment", have no plural form at all.

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Interesting, AO. I don't think the fish analogy works completely, but there are certainly mass nouns that do make sense to use in the plural, like waters, as you mentioned. I'm not sure I can think of a case where "correspondences" would work better than just plain old "correspondence". Try comparing it to the word "mail". For what it's worth, at least at dictionary.com, there is no listing for the plural at all. I could imagine two or more distinct groups of correspondence being referred to as correspondences, but I'm not sure. If I had two piles of mail, I would still have only more mail, not mails.

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If I had to hazard a guess, I would say correspondence is usually an uncountable noun like fruit, content, water, etc. but when making a distinction between different types a plural 's' is introduced. For example, you might usually say "I ate a lot of fruit this morning," rather than "I ate many fruits this morning," but "Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins." Or, "That magazine packs in a lot of content for your buck," but "Please empty the contents of your bag."

I don't think it would be incorrect to say, "Organizing the week's correspondences is a tedious task."

Sorry for the mediocre examples.

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Addendum: water can also be a count noun, as in "the murky waters of the Sea of Blahblahblah."

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Janet-

I'm going to disagree with you on this one. I think correspondence can be either a count or collective noun depending on what the speaker is intending. For example, while it sounds better (in my opinion) to simply use the verb "correspond", as in "I corresponded with him," I don't see why you couldn't say grammatically "I had a correspondence with him." The latter sentence makes a subtle aspectual departure from the former, meaning it is useful, and it expresses the noun "correspondence" as a singular count noun. If you can have singular count nouns, then you can pluralize them: "I had several correspondences with various people." What's wrong with that? Sounds fine to me.

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Sorry, no it couldn't be like that. The word correspondences doesn't exist. Correspondence refers to the process of writing letters whether one writes one or many. It looks singular but is a collective noun.

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Porshe-

Couldn't it be like "fish," though? That is, the plural of fish is fish, but when you are talking about many different species, you say fishes. So, doesn't correspondence work the same way? Several different letter exchanges could be separate correspondences.

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Actually, that is incorrect. Yes, the WORD correspondence is singular, but is it is a mass noun not a countable noun. It's like the word water. Three letters of correspondence are still described as correspondence, not correspondences, just like three glasses of water are still described as water, not waters.

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Um, correspondence would be single. If there are more than 1, you would have to add an 's' to make it plural... Correspondences.

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