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 – Demonstratives

When it comes to discussing one’s distance from objects, things, or other people, it’s necessary to master the grammatical concept of demonstratives. To describe the physical distance of something or someone to another is a key aspect of demonstratives. Depending if the speaker is near or far from the other object, person, place or thing, the demonstrative will change to reflect that change in closeness.

A key aspect of demonstratives to remember is that they can either be adverbs or pronouns for both singular and plural nouns. You can use demonstratives as well to describe both countable and uncountable nouns. In addition, when it comes to discussing actual events, you would use ‘near’ forms of the demonstrative to refer to the present while ‘far’ forms of the demonstrative would refer to the past.

For the demonstrative adverbs, the word ‘here’ refers to the subject who is close by and near to the object, thing, or person. For the opposite, the adverb ‘there’ refers to the subject that is far away from the object, thing, or person.

Here are some examples of demonstrative adverbs for near / far usage:

  • I am here at the police station.
  • They are here for the Science exam.
  • She was there for the graduation ceremony.
  • We will be there at 9 o’clock.

Based on these examples, it’s important to remember that the adverb ‘here’ for near situations should be used in the present tense whereas for far situations, ‘there’ is heavily used and often with either the past or future tenses.

As mentioned before, if you are near to an object, thing, or person and you’re looking to use a demonstrative pronoun, you’ll want to use the words of ‘this’ or ‘these’ depending upon if its’ with a singular, uncountable noun or with plural, countable nouns. The demonstrative ‘this’ or ‘that’ would be used with singular and uncountable nouns while ‘these’ or ‘those’ would be used with plural and countable nouns.

Here are some examples of how ‘this’ and ‘these’ would be used in sentences to describe objects, things, or people that are close in distance to the subject:

  • This cup is for my tea.
  • Is this your jacket?
  • Where have you been traveling to these days?
  • These bananas are delicious.
  • This is my friend, Dan.

As you can see from these examples, these objects or things are close to the subject rather than far away in distance. You can also see how the demonstrative ‘this’ is used for singular nouns while the pronoun ‘these’ are being used with plural nouns.

If the opposite occurs and you or another subject in your sentence is far away in distance from another, person, place or thing, you’re going to want to use the demonstratives ‘that’ or ‘those.’

Here are some examples of how ‘that’ and ‘those’ would be used in sentences to describe objects, things, or people that are far in distance to the subject:

  • What are those men doing over there?
  • That book in my shelf was really enjoyable.
  • That printer has a paper jam that needs to be fixed.
  • Those boys are heading off to play in the park.
  • Those tires are flat. They need air.

It’s clear from those examples above that those objects or things are considered to be far away from the subject of the sentence. You can also see how the demonstrative ‘that’ is used for singular nouns while the pronoun ‘those’ are being used with plural nouns.

When it comes to placing a demonstrative like ‘that’, ‘this’, ‘these’, ‘those’ in a sentence, you should remember that those pronouns can be placed before the noun or adjective that modifies the noun even if there is more than one noun in the same sentence.

Examples:

  • Those hungry people need to eat soon.
  • These tired citizens are waiting long hours in the unemployment line.

Another way to use the demonstrative is that it can be placed before any number by itself when the noun is understood within the context of a larger paragraph.

Examples:

  • These four need to be fixed.
  • That one gave me some trouble.

Sometimes, a demonstrative pronoun or adverb can be used by itself in a sentence without a noun even being present after the demonstrative. The noun can be understood from the context of a previous sentence or larger paragraph making the demonstrative clear the only necessary subject to have.

Examples:

  • This was not very fair to me.
  • That is really cool.
  • Those were really interesting.
  • What was the issue with these?

As with many other grammatical concepts in English, there are some rules and circumstances that have to be remembered in order to develop both spoken and written fluency. In order to become comfortable with demonstratives, study the examples, create sentences of your own, and re-read this article to remember the rules of usage.