What are nouns?
It is time for another free English lesson! In today’s free English lesson, we will be looking at nouns. I noticed that many English learners have difficulties with countable and uncountable nouns, that is, they tend to make plural of nouns which do not have plural.
So, for example, they say I ate two meats today.
To avoid such mistakes, I’m going to teach you which nouns are countable, as well as show you some exceptions where nouns have different meanings depending on whether they are in singular or plural form.
So, before we go any further, the question is:
What are nouns?
We all know what nouns are, right? We use them to name a person, a place or a thing. That’s how nouns are defined traditionally in all languages.
Common nouns are those used to name things, such as phone, radio, book…
Proper nouns are names of people, places, organizations and time, such as Jack, London, UNESCO, Saturday, February…
As you can see, common nouns can further be divided into countable and uncountable nouns.
Like the name itself says, countable nouns are those which are used to name things that you can count. We can use numbers and the article a/an with them. For example, a cat, two cats…
On the other hand, uncountable nouns are also called ‘mass’ nouns because they are the names of materials, liquids, abstract qualities and other things which we normally think of as one big mass of things. For example, think of sand. Can you count each piece of sand? Well, it would be pretty difficult. So, we can conclude that sand is an uncountable noun. Most of uncountable nouns are singular with no plural and we cannot use numbers with them. We cannot say two sand.
Both countable and uncountable nouns can be divided into concrete and abstract nouns.
Concrete nouns refer to people or things that exist physically and that at least one of the senses can detect.
Abstract nouns are nouns referring to emotions, ideas, concepts, beliefs.
Countable concrete nouns are flower, book, star, car…
Countable abstract nouns are fear, experience, skill…
Uncountable concrete nouns are milk, water, sand…
Uncountable abstract nouns are love, peace, hate, bravery, happiness…
Some determiners can only be used with countable nouns (many, few), while others can only be used with uncountable nouns (much, little).
How many hours do you work?
How much money have you earned last month?
Many nouns can be either countable or uncountable, depending on how they are used.
Is ice-skating a sport? / I like sport.
We use the of-structure with uncountable nouns to express the quantity.
We cannot say a flour or two sands. Instead, we use some typical expressions to express the quantity.
***Note that it is not always clear from the meaning whether a noun is countable or uncountable!
Many English learners struggle with the use of nouns such as information, news, and furniture because they think these are countable and use plural verbs and numbers with them.
For example, many say The informations are interesting, but this is wrong. They should say The information is interesting.
To avoid this mistake, you can use piece(s), bit(s), and item(s) with such nouns.
I've found out a piece of new information.
There are special cases in which some nouns can be either countable or uncountable. They are countable when they mean something separate and individual. On the other hand, they are uncountable when they mean a kind of material or substance. Also, animals, vegetables, and fruit are uncountable when we cut or divide them.
Here are a few examples of such nouns:
I bought a nice carpet for the living-room.
We bought two square meters of carpet. – In this case, carpet means a kind of material.
He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.
The church was built in stone. – In this case, stone means the kind of material in which the church was built.
Put some chicken in the sandwiches.
You can buy a whole chicken.
Special cases of countable/uncountable nouns
The following list contains nouns which can be countable or uncountable, depending on the context and the meaning.
**Note that the countable noun often means a specific example, while the uncountable noun has a more general meaning.