English Corner – Countable and Uncountable Nouns

It’s important to distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns in English because their usage is different in regard to both the determiners and the verbs. Countable and Uncountable nouns are grammatical topics that are likely to come up again and again in your studies so it’s important to know the main differences between them. If you are looking to improve your usage of numbers and to know how to use them to refer to person(s), place(s), and things(s), which are one or more in amount, then you will need to have a good grasp of countable and uncountable nouns.

Compared to many other grammar topics, countable and uncountable nouns are among the easiest to master but they are also the easiest ones to make careless mistakes about. By not paying enough attention to these basic rules, you will put yourself at risk of not referring to them correctly in either a direct or indirect manner. Please be sure to use the examples below to better your understanding and to also write out your own example sentences as well to get more practice. With enough effort, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the significance of one cow and five pencils. Most nouns are countable but there are a few exceptions which are not countable which you will find out more about in the rest of this ‘English Corner’ blog post.

Countable nouns are for things we can count using numbers. They have a singular and a plural form. The singular form can use the determiner “a” or “an”. If you want to ask about the quantity of a countable noun, you ask “How many _______?” combined with the plural countable noun.

Singular: One cat, one woman, one job, one store, one idea.

Plural: Two cats, three women, four jobs, five stores, six ideas.

She has three dogs. I own a house. I would like two books please. How many friends do you have?

Examples of Uncountable Nouns: tea, sugar, water, air, rice, knowledge, beauty

We cannot use a/an with these nouns. To express a quantity of an uncountable noun, use a word or expression like some, a lot of, much, a bit of, a great deal of, or else use an exact measurement like a cup of, a bag of, 1kg of, 1L of, a handful of, a pinch of, an hour of, a day of. If you want to ask about the quantity of an uncountable noun, you ask “How much?”

-There has been a lot of research into the causes of this disease.

-He gave me a great deal of advice before my interview.

-Can you give me some information about uncountable nouns?

-He did not have much sugar left.

-Measure 1 cup of water, 300g of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

-How much rice do you want?

Exceptions to the Rule of Countable v. Uncountable

Some nouns are countable in other languages but uncountable in English. They must follow the rules for uncountable nouns.

The most common ones are:
accommodation, advice, baggage, behavior, bread, furniture, information, luggage, news, progress, traffic

  • I would like to give you some advice.
  • How much bread should I bring?
  • I didn’t make much progress today.
  • This looks like a lot of trouble to me.
  • We did an hour of work yesterday.

Be careful with the noun hair, which is normally uncountable in English, so it is not used in the plural form. However, It can be countable only when referring to certain examples such as the individual hairs on someone’s head.

Examples:

1) Did you wash your hair last night?

2) Your dad is getting some grey hairs on his beard.

As shown in the multiple amount of examples, Countable nouns can be singular or plural although they mostly are plural in usage. This is in contrast with uncountable nouns which are only singular in their nature and can never be plural. This is an important grammatical distinction which will help you to understand the main difference between these two types of nouns. Do your best to study these examples, create your own sentences, and know why countable nouns are singular and plural while uncountable nouns are only singular. Whether it’s one potato or a hundred potatoes, you have to be able to count both.

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English Corner – The Passive Voice

The passive voice occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. This is because of whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. Take a look at this passive rephrasing of a familiar joke in the English language:

Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

Who is doing the action in this sentence? The chicken is the one doing the action in this sentence, but the chicken is not in the spot where you would expect the grammatical subject to be. Instead, the road is the grammatical subject.

The more familiar phrasing (why did the chicken cross the road?) puts the actor in the subject position, the position of doing something—the chicken (the actor/doer) crosses the road (the object). We use active verbs to represent that “doing,” whether it be crossing roads, proposing ideas, making arguments, or invading houses (more on that shortly).

Once you know what to look for, the passive voice is easy to spot. Look for a form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. (The past participle is a form of the verb that typically, but not always, ends in “-ed.” Some exceptions to the “-ed” rule are words like “paid” (not “payed”) and “driven.” (not “drived”).

Here’s a sure-fire formula for identifying the passive voice:

Form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice

For example:

The metropolis has been destroyed by the dragon’s fire blasts.

When her house was invaded, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her auction.

Not every sentence that contains a form of “have” or “be” is passive!

Let’s briefly look at how to change passive voice sentences into active ones. You can usually just switch the word order, making the actor and subject one by putting the actor up front:

The metropolis has been destroyed by the dragon’s fire blasts.

The passive sentence, when converted into an active sentence:

The dragon destroyed the metropolis with his fire blasts.

When her house was invaded, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her auction.

This passive sentence, when it is converted into an active sentence:

After robbers invaded her house, Penelope had to think of ways to delay her auction.

To repeat, the key to identifying the passive voice is to look for both the form of “to be” and the past participle, which usually, but not always, ends in “-ed.”

Sometimes, the passive voice is the best choice. Here are a few instances when the passive voice is quite useful:

1. To emphasize an object. Take a look at this example:

60 Senate votes are required to pass the bill.

This passive sentence emphasizes the number of votes required. An active version of the sentence (“The bill requires 60 votes to pass”) would put the emphasis on the bill, which may be less dramatic.

2. To de-emphasize an unknown subject/actor. Consider this example:

Over 120 different contaminants have been dumped into the river.

If you don’t know who the actor is—in this case, if you don’t actually know who dumped all of those contaminants in the river—then you may need to write in the passive voice. Please remember though, if you do know the actor, and if the clarity and meaning of your writing would benefit from indicating him/her/it/them, then use the active voice.

Also, please consider the third example which is listed below:

3. If your readers don’t need to know who’s responsible for the action.

Here’s where your choice can be difficult; some sentences are less clear than others. Try to put yourself in the reader’s position to anticipate how he or she will react to the way you have phrased your thoughts. Here are two examples:

(passive) Baby Sophia was delivered at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.

(active) Dr. Susan Jones delivered baby Sophia at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.

The first sentence might be more appropriate in a birth announcement sent to the family and friends—they are not likely to know Dr. Jones and are much more interested in the “object” (the baby) than in the actor (the doctor). A hospital report of yesterday’s events might be more likely to focus on Dr. Jones’ role in delivering the baby.

Active and Passive Voice Examples – Different Grammar Tenses

Simple Present TenseTwice a month, Brian cleans his apartment. (Active)

Twice a month, the apartment is cleaned by Brian. (Passive)

Simple Past Tense – John fixed the doorknob. (Active)

The doorknob was fixed by John. (Passive)

Simple Future Tense / will – He will finish his job by 5 PM today. (Active)

The job will be finished by 5 PM today. (Passive)

Simple Future Tense / going toJackie is going to cook dinner tonight. (Active)

Dinner is going to be cooked by Jackie tonight. (Passive)

Present Progressive TenseAs of now, Corey is creating a Science project. (Active)

As of now, the science project is being created by Corey. (Passive)

Past Progressive TenseThe detective was working on the mystery murder case when his partner picked up another clue. (Active)

The mystery murder case was being worked on by the detective when his partner picked up another clue. (Passive)

Future Progressive Tense (will)

At 10:00 PM tonight, HBO will be airing the new Vice special. (Active)

At 10:00 PM tonight, the new Vice special will be airing on HBO. (Passive)

I hope that this ‘English Corner’ blog post has made clear when to use the passive voice and under which circumstances can its usage best be applied. As an English language learner, you’ll need to be comfortable with using both the passive voice and the active voice in order to become a better English writer and speaker. Please use the examples given to better your understanding of this English topic as well as how the active and passive voices are set up in the past, the present, and the future tenses. 

English Corner – All About Adjectives

We have previously covered ‘adjectives’ to an extent in a previous blog post entry on the ‘eight basic parts of speech’ for which ‘adjectives is one of them. However, I believe that it is crucial to go into much more detail about what adjectives are and how they can be used in different ways in the English language.

The main definition for a ‘adjective’ is a word that is used to describe a noun or give a noun or a pronoun a more specific meaning. There are hundreds of adjectives in the English language making the possible combinations and uses of them almost infinite. The process of an adjective describing a word is modifying it to become more descriptive. Adjectives answer important questions about the details of a sentence such as: What kind?, Which one?, How many?, How much?

Let’s start out with some general examples of how adjectives can be used within sentences to help give pronouns and nouns more specific and descriptive meanings.

Examples:

The newlyweds live in a beautiful house.

John is a kind and caring teenager.

Tina is a sweet and respectful girl.

The high school students are quiet when they listen to the teacher.

From the general examples of ‘adjectives’ that I have listed above, in the bolded words, you can see a pattern take place in that these words are describing nouns like ‘house, teenager, girl, teacher’, and they always come before the nouns. These nouns as they are well documented are people, place(s), and thing(s). As you can see, while the adjective(s) come before a noun, they also come after verbs such as ‘is, are, live,’ etc. as shown in the examples above. Verbs don’t always come before adjectives but that’s usually the case in a normal sentence.

Here are a few more examples showing how the average verb will come before an adjective in a sentence:

  • Your car is blue. (to be)
  • The sky appeared to be cloudy. (to appear)
  • His face looked tired. (to look)

Adjectives can also modify pronouns as well within a sentence and you can use two adjectives together in the same sentence back-to-back without any issues. Here are some examples I have listed below with adjectives – pronouns together in a sentence as well as the use of two or more adjectives in the same sentence:

  • They were such a nice couple.
  • It is really a beautiful day out.
  • He truly acts like a mature individual.

From these pronouns – adjectives examples above, you can see that they are often subject words such as (they, it, he) and they come at the beginning of the sentence. The adjectives themselves (nice, beautiful, mature) will come towards the end of the sentence after the pronoun but before the noun they modify if there is one to be changed.

  • The cookie is both black and white.
  • He was a dangerous, demented person.
  • LeBron James is a kind, caring athlete.

You don’t only need to use one or two adjectives in your sentences as you can use three or more if you really would like to make your writing as descriptive as possible. Knowing how and when to use adjectives is the key to becoming a better English writer and making your writing more appealing to your audience. By being able to know the vocabulary and how to use adjectives correctly in your sentences, your English will be more readable and also more entertaining to your readers. It will take time but it’s good to establish the basics of adjectives now in order to build upon your knowledge of this topic later on.

When it comes to how to form ‘adjectives’, they will usually come with endings to the words that stand out to you. Examples of adjective word endings include –able, -ible, -ish, -like, -ful, -less, -ous, and –y. Adjectives don’t always end in those word endings but it’s important to be aware of the many cases in which they do end like that.

Examples: Thinkable, Possible, Childish, Adultlike, Thoughtful, Faithless, Courageous, Hungry.

There are hundreds of examples for adjectives that end with these letters but it’s key for you, the reader, to draw the connections by looking at the structure of the adjective and seeing if there’s a –y or –ish ending before you write it for your sentence.

Lastly, a lot of adjectives are comparative or superlative in nature so you have to be aware of how to form those words as well because they will come up a lot in written or spoken form.

Comparative: more or less + adjective and -er

Superlative: most or least + adjective, adjective and –est

Adjective: Tall

1st Comparative Example: Taller

1st Superlative Example: Tallest

Adjective: Dangerous

2nd Comparative Example: More Dangerous, Less Dangerous

2nd Superlative Example: Most Dangerous, Least Dangerous

Hopefully, this blog post on adjectives has helped you, the reader, in terms of what they are, how they are placed within a sentence, how many of them can be used, and how to use them for comparative purposes. You have also seen possible word endings for most adjectives to give you a good hint as to when they are actually adjectives and not just nouns or verbs. Once you have this fundamental basic part of speech down, you’ll be able to tackle harder and more complex (adjective) English grammar topics.

English Corner – Gerunds

In order to facilitate your grammar studies, it’s important to not overlook certain topics that are integral to boosting your knowledge of English grammar. ‘Gerunds’ is one of those key topics to really get a handle on and master because it will come up again and again in both your speaking and writing. While not the most complex topic, being able to understand the rules behind gerunds and memorizing them will put you ahead of other learners. ‘Gerunds’ is a topic that needs to be put into use over and over in order to be used proficiently.

The main thing to keep in mind with gerunds is not to overcomplicate what they are and what they are used for. Gerunds are simple verbs that end in –ing and that never changes regardless of which tense they are used in. –Ing can be added to verbs that are used in the present, past, and future tenses. Gerunds can also be utilized at the beginning, middle, and ending of sentences. These verbs + -ing are extremely versatile in their usage and it’s important to be aware of where they can be placed within sentences.

The key thing to keep in mind with a gerund word is that it used more like a noun than a verb or an adjective. Most students don’t remember that a verb that ends in –ing can also function as a present participle which is different than a gerund. Gerunds are not the same as present participles and the main difference between them is quite easy to remember. Gerunds are primarily used as more of a noun than a verb or adjective whereas present participles function more as exact verbs. Here are a few examples below as to how ‘gerunds’ are used as nouns in a regular sentence:

  1. I like dancing on a Saturday night.
  2. Playing video games is really fun.
  3. Singing in the rain is an underrated activity.

Gerunds have to be thought of nouns in verb form essentially. If you notice from the above examples, ‘gerund’ words can be used as the subject or object of a sentence. They can be placed at the beginning of the sentence to become the main subject or they can be the object of the sentence when the gerund comes after the main subject and the main verb as well.

While gerunds can mainly function as nouns, they can also be used as adjectives when they are right next to each other in the sentence structure.

  1. It was a night of ceaseless partying that went until the morning light.
  2. The careful building of the Statue of Liberty was a great French achievement.

It is important to note that you can often use gerunds after many different kinds of prepositions during a normal sentence. Gerunds often act as a substitute for noun words that you could be used right after prepositions. If you’re only using the base verb without the gerund (-ing), it won’t be grammatically correct. Here are a few examples of how to use the gerund after a few different prepositions:

  1. I will make breakfast before going into work today.
  2. Please do wash your hands after making dinner for our guests.
  3. We are used to driving on the right here in the United States.

It’s important to keep in mind that the gerund immediately follows each preposition directly after the preposition word is used in the sentence. There are dozens of prepositions used in the English language so it is important to keep in mind when to use the gerund after any kind of preposition comes up in a sentence.

Lastly, ‘gerunds’ can be used in a passive voice kind of sentence under multiple circumstances. In these kinds of cases, the gerund word would often come at the end of the sentence to reflect the action taking place. Here are a few examples of how you can use gerunds in a passive voice kind of sentence:

  1. I have three pairs of pants that need washing.
  2. The water cooler at my workplace needs replenishing.
  3. Your shirts are outside the house on the clothesline drying.

Please note that in sentences #1 and #2 from my examples that the main verb ‘need’ is used right before each gerund word. Without the main verb of ‘need’, it becomes much more difficult to express the action that is occurring at the end of the sentence.

Whatever use you find for the gerund, remember that the gerund comes up very often in both spoken and written English. You can use the gerund for multiple purposes including for nouns, adjectives, prepositions, passive voice, etc. The key thing to take away is that gerunds are very flexible in terms of their placement within a sentence. They can also be combined with various parts of speech to make your writing flow better and have more details. While gerunds are easy to form with ‘verb + -ing’, using them within the right context and in the right format is something that requires patience, practice, and repetition.

English Corner – Question Words

Knowing how to pose a question in English is a key component towards developing proficiency in the language. You’ll be able to better get around a city, ask for directions, find nearby places, and ask for the meaning of something among other uses. When it comes to getting the specifics in characteristics, times, places, people, and things; having the ability to create a question is a key part towards getting the information you need to make a decision or understand something new.

In order to do that, we need to become familiar with the different options for question words in English. Question words mainly come at the beginning of a sentence and come in seven different forms although there are variations within each question word. For this article, we will be focusing on the seven main question words: ‘why, when, where, what, who, which, and how.’ Each of these seven question words are used under different circumstances and for different reasons. First, I’ll break down how we use each question word and also give examples about how to use each of these words in a basic sentence.

Why

When you use the question word ‘why’, you’re trying to get a reason, a meaning, or an explanation from someone about something that happened. You are trying to get the purpose out of what has happened or occurred. ‘Why’ is most often used in the past tense and can be related to a prior event or procedure. If you’re looking to understand what the cause or reason for something is, you’ll want to use ‘why’ for this kind of question.

Examples:

  • Why did you cheat on your final exam?
  • Why is he not telling the truth?
  • Why were you chewing gum during class?

When

For the question word ‘when,’ its usage centers around being able to know about a general or specific time and/or place. If you’re on public transportation, ‘when’ would definitely come in handy when you need to ask about the arrival or departure of a bus, plane, or train. Asking about a person’s preferences when it comes to how they manage their time is also useful for ‘when.’ The past, present, and future tenses can all be used with ‘when’ as well with no problem.

Examples:

  • When are you and your friends going to the movies later?
  • When did your flight arrive from Istanbul?
  • When will the next train be leaving the station?

Where

If you want to inquire specifically about places and locations, you’ll need to use the question word of ‘where.’ In order to get to know somebody better, you can also ask about where they have been to as well as where are they going. ‘Where’ is often focused about inquiring about places but it can be used to get to know somebody better as well.

Examples:

  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Where did you go on vacation this year?
  • Where is your family from?

What

Out of all of the question words, the word ‘what’ has the most potential uses compared to the others. You can ask about people’s preferences such as their likes and dislikes. You can use ‘what’ in order to describe people, places, and things in greater detail. The physical and character descriptions are easy to make when you ask the question starting with ‘what.’ Lastly, one can inquire about the kind / type of people, place or thing by beginning the question with ‘what’ in order to get more details.

Examples:

  • What does she do for fun on the weekend?
  • What were the Pyramids in Egypt like?
  • What does New York City look like?
  • What kind of person is Jack?

Who

For the question word of ‘who’, you’re always going to be using it to ask about people. You’ll never be using ‘who’ to describe a thing or an object. With ‘who’, you’ll mainly be making object kind of questions as ‘who’ will form the subject and which will also form the answer to this question. The person’s name and/or their personal preferences will be highlighted in the answer to a ‘who’ question.

Examples:

  • Who does Tina like?
  • Who is studying both Spanish and Portuguese?
  • Who went to the post office earlier today to send the package?

Which

The last of the –Wh question words is ‘which.’ While it may be the least used of all English question words, its purpose is quite important. If you’re making a choice between a number of options such as people, things, or objects, you’re going to start this kind of question off with ‘which.’ Additionally, if you’re inquiring about the type or the kind of an object or thing, you will use ‘which’ to understand the specific model or function.

Examples:

  • Which boy did Tim choose for his Kickball team?
  • Which Harry Potter book did you like the best?
  • Which kind of sports car do you want to buy?

How

Not every question word in the English language begins with –Wh and so last but not least, we have the important question word of ‘How.’ When you use this question word, you usually combine ‘How’ with an adjective right after to form the sentence. The main usage of ‘How’ is to ask about the specific characteristics, qualities, and quantities of persons, places, or things. When it comes to discussing a price, a length of time, a frequency of an event, or height / weight measurements; using ‘How’ would be your best bet.

Examples:

  • How old are you?
  • How long was the drive from New York to California?
  • How much does this fruit cost?

In order to use question words, we first must understand and memorize why and how they are used. The functions of each question word are very important to know about. Without a base knowledge of their similarities and differences to each other, it will be much more difficult to form the correct question. These seven question words in English have a lot of overlap but it’s important to know how they are unique as well as how they can best be used to make sure you’re understood.