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 Rules of Capitalization

Understanding the rules of capitalization is a key part of taking your English grammar understanding to a very advanced level. If you are able to know when, where, and how to capitalize letters and words correctly, you will definitely be ahead of most other English learners.

Some people may tell you that there are far more than just the main ten rules of capitalization in English, which may in fact be true. Other folks may say that there are only three rules of capitalization, and they may also be correct. However, The truth is that, depending on how you organize the rules, the rules of capitalization may be many or few based on how narrow or broad your definition of these rules are.

Most of the things we capitalize in English are what we refer to as ‘proper nouns.’ They are the names of specific and unique things.

  • If you are talking about one specific mountain (Mt. Fuji), state (Idaho) or street (Atlantic Avenue), use a capital letter for every word in the name.
  • However, when you are talking about a common thing of which there are many of them- like a mountain, a state or a street – you don’t have to use a capital letter for those words.

It’s important to remember as well that Capital letters are not used for articles (a, an, the) or for prepositions (of, on, for, in, to, with, etc.).

The Ten Main Rules

  1. Names or titles of people

This one may seem obvious, but there’s also a catch. Of course, you capitalize the first letters of a person’s first, middle and last names (John Quincy Adams), but you also capitalize suffixes (Jr., the Great, Princess of Power, etc.) and titles.

Titles can be as simple as Mr., Mrs. or Dr., but they also apply to situations wherein you address a person by his or her position as though it’s their first name. For example, when we talk about President Lincoln, we are using his role as though it were a part of his name. We don’t always capitalize the word president. Indeed, we could say, “During the Civil War, President Lincoln was the president of the United States.”

Another way to look at capitalizing job titles is to look at the position of the job title in the sentence in reference to the person’s name.

  • You should capitalize the title when it comes immediately before or after someone’s name.
  • You don’t have to capitalize the job title if it comes after the word “the.”

For example:  “Dr. Rogers was the Cardiac Surgeon.” “The cardiac surgeon allowed me to come into the room and observe the patient.”

  1. Names of mountains, mountain ranges, hills and volcanoes

Again, we’re talking about specific places. The word ‘hill’ is not a proper noun, but Bunker Hill is because it’s the name of one specific hill. Use a capital letter to begin each word in the name of a mountain (Mt. Olympus), mountain range (the Appalachians), hill (San Juan Hill) or volcano (Mt. Vesuvius).

  1. Names of bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, streams and creeks)

From here, it gets pretty easy. The same rules that apply to mountain names also apply to water names. A river is just a river, but the Mississippi River is a proper noun and must be capitalized, just like Lake Erie, the Indian Ocean and the Dead Sea.

  1. Names of buildings, monuments, bridges and tunnels

Man-made structures also often have names. The White House, The Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty, The Golden Gate Bridge and The Lincoln Tunnel are a few good examples.

  1. Street names

It’s necessary to capitalize both the actual name part of the name (Capital) and the road part of the name (Boulevard); both are necessary for forming the entire name of the street (Capital Boulevard).

  1. Schools, colleges and universities

All of the words in the name of the educational institution should be capitalized. For example, Harvard University, Wilkesboro Elementary School, Cape Fear Community College.

  1. Political divisions (continents, regions, countries, states, counties, cities and towns)

As is the case with regions of a country, the divisions may not always be political, but you get the idea. When you refer to New England, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest or the South as a region (as opposed to a compass direction), you capitalize it. Also, continents (South America), countries (Belgium), states (Wisconsin), counties (Prince William County), cities (London) and towns (Lizard Lick) get capitalized.

  1. Titles of books, movies, magazines, newspapers, articles, songs, plays and works of art

This one’s a little tricky when ‘and,’ articles or prepositions are involved. If ‘the’ is the first word in the given name of a work, it must be capitalized (The Washington PostThe Glass Menagerie). If ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the first word, it too is capitalized (A Few Good Men), and if a preposition leads the way, you guessed it: Capitalized (Of Mice and Men). However, if any of these words come in the middle of the title, it is not capitalized.

  1. The first letter in a sentence

The last two rules are easy. Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence. If the sentence is a quotation within a larger sentence, capitalize it, but only if it’s a complete sentence. If it’s merely a phrase that fits neatly into the larger sentence, it does not require capitalization. Study the following two examples for clarification:

  • The waiter said, “My manager will be here shortly,” but he never came.
  • The waiter told us that his manager would “be here shortly,” but he never came.
  1. The pronoun ‘I’

It’s only necessary to capitalize other pronouns when they begin a sentence, but ‘I’ is always capitalized.

Remembering the Rules

How can you possibly remember all these rules? Well, first of all, you should ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this the first letter in a sentence? If the answer is yes, capitalize.
  • Is this the pronoun I? If yes, capitalize.
  • Am I using a name that someone gave to this thing or person? If yes, capitalize.

And if you want to remember all the specific categories, try memorizing one of the following sentences.

  • “For Bob Barker, the price is wrong sometimes,” Adam says.
  • Susan Sarandon bought my wife fancy toilet paper in Boston.

The first letter of each word stands for a category:

  • F– First letter in a sentence
  • B– Buildings (and other man-made structures)
  • B– Borders (of regions, states, countries, etc.)
  • T– Titles
  • P– People
  • I– I
  • S– Schools
  • W– Water
  • M– Mountains
  • S– Streets

Other Examples of Capitalization

First Word of a Sentence

The cat is sleeping in my bedroom.

Where did I put that book?

Hey! It’s great to see you! How have you been?

Names and Personal Pronouns

My favorite author is Jonathan Franzen.

Tom and Diane met at Jill’s house.

Have you met my dog, Barry?

The First Word of a Full Quote

Mario asked, “What is everyone doing this weekend?”

Stacy answered, “My sister and I are going to the theme park.”

Days, Months, and Holidays

I hate Mondays!

Harry’s birthday is in July.

Oh no! I forgot about Mother’s Day!

Words in Formal Titles

Lord of Rings is better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

The first movie of the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Cities, Countries, Nationalities, and Languages

English is made up of many languages, including Latin, German, and French.

My mother is Italian, and my father is German.

The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Time Periods and Events

Most of the World War I veterans have now passed away.

In the Middle Ages, poor hygiene was partly responsible for the spreading of the black death.

High school history students often enjoy studying the social changes that took place during the Roaring Twenties in the United States.

In this article, it is not just the ten main rules of capitalization that we have to be aware of. There are many other additional rules where you can use capitalization on a consistent basis. The examples shown above should help you, the reader, to understand when and where these words can be capitalized and to notice a pattern in terms of how these rules can be applied. 

Overall, capitalization is a very tricky topic to fully master but if you know the rules and you know when not to capitalize at all just for definite / indefinite articles along with prepositions, you will be well on your way to having a handle on this advanced grammar topic. It’s important to not be overwhelmed by all of the rules out there including the additional ones that were highlighted here. Starting off with the ten main rules of capitalization is a sufficient enough starting point to focus on. With Capitalization, you do not want to bite off more than you can chew and while the ‘additional rules’ of this grammar topic are important, it’s best to focus on the main rules such as geographic features, names of people / titles, the first letter in any sentence, etc. Good luck!

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.