Listen to an audio version of this page (7 min):
Count and noncount nouns
Nouns are words that name things, places, people, and ideas. Right now, you may be surrounded by desks, computers, and notebooks. These are called count nouns because you can count the exact number of desks, computers, and notebooks—three desks, one computer, and six notebooks, for example.
On the other hand, you may be carrying a small amount of money in your wallet and sitting on a piece of furniture. These are called noncount nouns. Although you can count the pieces of furniture or the amount of money, you cannot add a number in front of money or furniture and simply add –s to the end of the noun. Instead, you must use other words and phrases to indicate the quantity of money and furniture.
- Incorrect: five moneys, two furnitures
- Correct: some money, two pieces of furniture
A count noun refers to people, places, and things that are separate units. You make count nouns plural by adding –s.
|Sample sentence with a plural count noun in bold
|It takes six quarters to do my laundry.
|Make sure to push in your chairs before leaving class.
|The two candidates debated the issue.
|The three adults in the room acted like children.
|The two comedians made the audience laugh.
A noncount noun identifies a whole object that cannot separate and count individually. Noncount nouns may refer to concrete objects or abstract objects. A concrete noun identifies an object you can see, taste, touch, or count. An abstract noun identifies an object that you cannot see, touch, or count. There are some exceptions, but most abstract nouns cannot be made plural, so they are noncount nouns. Examples of abstract nouns include anger, education, melancholy, softness, violence, and conduct.
|Type of noncount noun
|Sample sentences with noncount nouns in bold
|sugar, salt, pepper, lettuce, rice
|Add more sugar to my coffee, please.
|concrete, chocolate, silver, soap
|The ice cream was covered in creamy chocolate.
|peace, warmth, hospitality, information
|I need more information about the insurance policy.
Label each of the following nouns as count or noncount.
Identify all the noncount nouns in the sentences below.
- The amount of traffic on the way home was terrible.
- Forgiveness is an important part of growing up.
- I made caramel sauce for the organic apples I bought.
- I prefer film cameras instead of digital ones.
- My favorite subject is history.
Definite and indefinite articles
The word the is a definite article. It refers to one or more specific things. For example, the woman refers to not any woman but a particular woman. The definite article the can be used before singular and plural nouns and before count and noncount nouns as long as they refer to something specific.
The words a and an are indefinite articles. They refer to one nonspecific thing. For example, a woman refers to any woman, not a specific, particular woman. The indefinite article a or an is used before a singular count noun.
|Sample sentence with an article in bold
|I saw the concert.
|The article the suggests that we are referring to a specific concert, which is singular.
|I saw the concerts.
|The article the suggests that we are referring to specific concerts, which is plural.
|I saw the U2 concert last night.
|The article the suggests that we are referring to a specific concert by the band U2.
|I saw a concert.
|The article a suggests we are referring to any nonspecific concert, but not to multiple concerts.
Choose the correct article, a, an, or the, to fill in the blank for each of the following sentences.
- ________ camel can live for days without water.
- I enjoyed ________ pastries at the Bar Mitzvah.
- ________ politician spoke of many important issues.
- I really enjoyed ________ actor’s performance in the play.
- ________ goal I have is to run a marathon this year.
Correct the misused or missing articles in the following paragraph:
Stars are large balls of spinning hot gas like our sun. The stars look tiny because they are far away. Many of them are much larger than sun. Did you know that a Milky Way galaxy has between two hundred billion and four hundred billion stars in it? Scientists estimate that there may be as many as five hundred billion galaxies in an entire universe! Just like a human being, the star has a life cycle from birth to death, but its lifespan is billions of years long. The star is born in a cloud of cosmic gas and dust called a nebula. Our sun was born in the nebula nearly five billion years ago. Photographs of the star-forming nebulas are astonishing.