Monday, March 26, 2012

Common Errors in English for Non-Native Speakers: Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Possessive Nouns.Another Mistake Made When Using Nouns (Photo credit: elvis_payne)By Sarah Short

When speaking or writing English, we as native English speakers, automatically make our nouns countable or uncountable.

This division of nouns seems to occur only in English, which makes using nouns properly for non-native speakers rather difficult. The good news is that most nouns are countable so follow the normal rules. These are as follows:

Countable nouns can be counted, so can be used after the indefinite article a or an if singular or after some, any or the if plural. When asking about the quantity, the question words how many are used, and of course, the verb has to agree. So if you are talking in the present tense, you need to use the third person singular if you are talking about one of anything, e.g. There is a shower in the bathroom, but it doesn't work. On the other hand, if you are talking about more than one of anything, the noun would be plural and the verb would have to agree, e.g. There are some books on the table, but they don't belong to me.

When asking about quantity and the noun is countable, then you would always ask in the plural, even though you don't know what the quantity is and it might be one. For example, How many children do you have? I only have one child.

If we are talking about a general quantity, we can use few with countable nouns, e.g. There are a few cars in the car park. This means there are some cars in the car park.

Uncountable nouns cannot be counted so we have to use some or any, we cannot use a or an or a number. For example. Would you like some water? We also use how much if we are asking about the quantity. e.g. How much water do you want? A large glass full please. Uncountable nouns are always treated as singular, so the verbs have to agree. For example, This water is very good, where does it come from?

If we are talking about a general quantity with uncountable nouns, we can use little to mean some. e.g. There is a little wine left in the bottle.

Although there is no logic to whether nouns are countable or uncountable, for example, while vegetables are countable - how many vegetables shall we have with the chicken? fruit is uncountable - how much fruit would you like for dessert? However, there are some rules. In general all materials: glass, wood, metal, silk etc. are uncountable, as are all liquids and solids that are not normally counted: salt, sugar, rice, pasta etc. and meat, when it is being served is uncountable. How much beef would you like, one slice or two?

The difficult uncountable nouns have to be remembered, and there are many, but the most common ones are - advice, news, luggage, bread and information.

My advice is to note down in your vocabulary book any nouns which are uncountable and learn them.

If you want to learn English in England Tudor Hall, on the south coast, could be the perfect place for you. Tudor Hall School of English is a small, professional school that specialises in just three things; exam preparation, English for the real world and summer programmes for younger students (14 - 17). Our passion is our students' success.

To find out about our courses, visit Tudor Hall

Sarah Short
Tudor Hall School of English

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