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TWTS: Attend as many "trainings" as you like

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There are plenty of language peeves out there, and they don’t all make it onto our radar. Fortunately, we can rely on our listeners to bring unfamiliar peeves to our attention.

This week, we’re looking at “training” as a countable noun.

Listener Daniella Scruggs, who now lives in Stockholm, Sweden, works in the nonprofit sector, where she said “trainings” is used all the time. Lately though, she’s noticed not everyone is on board with this usage.

“Spell check hates ‘trainings,’ but I don't understand why. I am now working at an office that uses British English and it is even more looked down upon,” Scruggs said.

Scruggs wondered if “training” in this sense is a shortening of “training sessions,” and whether it’s okay to say something like, “Today I attended a training.”

A couple of days after Scruggs contacted us, Professor Anne Curzan received an email from a software company at which she was scheduled to give a talk. It included a list of language peeves they hoped she would address, one of which was “a training.”

Clearly, kismet was at play, so we decided to take a look at “training” as a countable noun.

Concerns about “training” can be found in the early 2000s, with questions about whether an “s” can be added to make it plural. Curzan notes websites with statements such as, “’Training’ is a non-countable noun. Therefore, it cannot be made plural by adding an ‘s.’”

However, actual usage says otherwise. “Training” absolutely can be made plural by adding an “s.” As to whether it’s short for “training sessions,” maybe, maybe not.

The thing is, “training” as a countable noun is actually fairly old. Evidence of “a training” dates back to the 1500s, possibly starting with a military training session. By the late 1500s, “a training” could refer to any training session.

There’s a good reason though that this peeve is suddenly on people’s radar. Google Books shows a dramatic rise in the usage of “trainings” over the past 20 to 25 years. With usage trends like that, it’s likely “trainings” will eventually gain universal acceptance.

Since we were already on the topic of business jargon, we also took a look at the phrase “to progress,” as in, “to progress a project.” To hear about that, listen to the audio above.


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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.