Using Count and Non-Count Nouns
Before articles can be used correctly, it is important to understand how count and noncount nouns are used.
A count noun is a noun that can be counted.
I mailed a letter. Suzanne mailed five letters. (Letter is a count noun; letters are
A non-count noun cannot be counted.
Yesterday, I received some mail. (Mail is a noncount noun; while we cannot count mail in
general, we can count pieces of mail.)
We generally place a or an before a singular count noun.
We add s or es to the plural count noun, but no article is used.
A letter arrived for me yesterday. (any letter – a nonspecific letter)
Letters from abroad are always welcome!
S & R has a nice selection of cheap watches.
Singular: a letter, one letter (an envelope)
Plural: letters (no article), five letters, some letters, many letters watches, five watches,some watches, etc.
A or an is not placed in front of a non-count noun.
A non-count noun does not end in s or es because it has no plural form. (It can help to think of the non-count noun as a unit.)
Too much mail was in my mailbox. (Singular – no plural form: mail, some mail, a lot of mail)
Points to Remember
1. Think of noncount nouns as one single unit made up of many distinct items: mail is made up of more than one letter.
I wish I got mail everyday; rarely do I get a letter.
OR an unspecified quantity made up of smaller elements, such as coffee
They buy coffee at the market only if it is organic.
Note: For particular quantities we often say: a piece of mail or a cup of coffee
2. Many non-count nouns are abstract words or concepts which do not have a concrete shape and therefore cannot be counted.
Health is more important than money.
3. Finally, to complicate things, many nouns are used as both non-count or count nouns, and sometimes this changes the meaning.
|Anemic people are often deficient in iron.||I left the iron on when I went out.|
|I have curly hair.||She found a hair in her soup.|
Groups of Nouns used as Non-Count Nouns
Practice writing in any nouns you can think of that would fit in each category:
1. A single unit made up of many items
2. An unspecified quantity made up of smaller elements
3. Abstract concepts and nature/weather related words
NOTE: Other non-count nouns include fields of study (engineering), languages (Spanish), and activities (soccer). A word such as walking is a gerund, but functions as a noun, so it can be considered non-countable.
Articles are used to introduce nouns and are often called determiners. They help us determine what type of noun will follow – a definite one, which is usually specific, or an indefinite or general one, which can mean the noun refers to any thing, not a particular thing.
The (pronounced thee before a vowel and thuh before a consonant) is used to refer to or draw attention to a particular or definite person or thing. A or an (used before words with a vowel) is used when we want to refer to something that is general or not definite.
We drop the article when we are talking about something in a general way. Plural and non-count nouns are not preceded by an article when we use them in a non-specific way.
Generic Nouns: using a or [no article]
Definite Noun: using the
Indefinite Nouns: using a or some