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Nidhin Chacko from India asks:

Some people drinking tea, standing in flood watersDoes the word water have any plural like waters? I listened in recent news like, ‘In some areas, the waters have receded and the clean-up job has begun’, ‘...take the waters’ etc. It would be great if you explained about the structure of waters. Can you please explain when do we use water and waters? Can you please explain it?
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Samantha answers:
Samantha Hi Nidhin and thank you for this interesting question! Yes, I can see why you’d feel confused about water and waters. In general, water is used as an uncountable noun, which means that it does not change to a plural form. Listen to these:

Put plenty of water in the bath!

Put plenty of peas in the soup!

Fill the bowls with water.

Fill the bowls with stones.

Now, peas and stones are countable nouns, so they can take both singular and plural forms, but as water is an uncountable noun it doesn’t alter, so we have one glass of water or two glasses of water. And this is probably the usage that you’re most used to hearing.

But in your example, you seem to be referring to a flood situation, and waters is used to mean a specific body of water – that is, a lake, a river or a sea. And the situation seems to describe a river that’s burst its banks, or an area of land that’s been flooded by heavy rainfall. So in this case, waters refers to the presence of a large body of water, rather than the running water that we use from the tap. This is a topical example, because many areas of the world have suffered extreme floods this year.

As well as the example you give, we could also talk about UK fishing waters, which means an area of sea belonging to the UK, where it’s possible for UK boats to go fishing. And we also refer to fresh waters, meaning rivers, as opposed to salt or saline waters, which means the sea.

There are also some seafaring metaphors which use waters: if we say that someone is entering stormy waters or dangerous waters, it means they’re heading for troubled or difficult times.

And finally, to explain your own example, Nidhin, to take the waters is an old-fashioned phrase which means to enjoy a relaxing stay in a spa hotel, which is a hotel built over a natural hot spa or spring, so that you can bathe and enjoy the health-giving waters, which sounds like a wonderful idea to me!

So thank you for your question Nidhin, and I hope this helps!

Nidhin responds:

OK, thank you, thanks for your great call.

About Samantha
Samantha has been a teacher of English language and communication skills for the past sixteen years. She taught in Japan for many years, but is now based at Newcastle University, where she teaches on an MA in Translating and Interpreting, as well as preparatory EFL programmes.