Grammar – Nouns

Nouns

 

A noun names a person, a place, an animal, a thing, or an idea. Nouns can be plural or singular and can be the subject or object of a verb. For example:

  • The books are on the table.
  • Love is all you need.
  • John is in the garden.
  • London is lovely in the summer.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to know if a word is a noun or another part of speech. For example, in English, the word ‘love’ can be a noun and it can be a verb. We need to look at how the word is used in the sentence to work out what part of speech it is. Here are some tips. Nouns are often the subject or object of a verb. Nouns often come after an article like ‘a’ or ‘the’. Nouns often come after an adjective like ‘red’ or ‘pretty’ or ‘big’. Nouns are often used with a determiner like ‘this’ or ‘those’.

 

Nouns

 

Common and Proper Nouns

 

There are different kinds of noun. First, we have proper nouns and common nouns.

Proper nouns are the names of people (Julie, Mr Johnson), places (Paris, Africa, California), organisations (Coca Cola, the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford University), works of art (the Mona Lisa), days of the week (Monday), months (June, October) and festivals (Christmas, Ramadan). In English, proper nouns usually have capital letters at the beginning of the word.

Common nouns are everything else. Words like ‘book’, ‘table’, ‘mountain’, ‘love’ and ‘money’ are all common nouns.

 

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

 

Second, there are two types of common noun. These are countable nouns and uncountable nouns. It’s really important to know if a noun is countable or uncountable, because it changes how we use it in a sentence.

Countable nouns are things which can be counted like ‘table’, ‘apple’ or ‘boy’. They usually change their form when we make a plural (they often add an ‘s’), and can be used with either a singular or a plural verb: one book falls, two books fall.

On the other hand, uncountable nouns are usually things which can’t easily be counted, like ‘love’, ‘rice’ or ‘water’. Uncountable nouns do not make a plural or change their form, and they are always used with a singular verb. We can’t say one rice, two rices.

However, sometimes there’s not much logic to whether a noun is countable or uncountable. For example, ‘work’ is uncountable but ‘job’ is countable. ‘Trip’ is countable, but ‘travel’ is uncountable. ‘Word’ is countable, but ‘vocabulary’ is uncountable. Sometimes, a noun is even different in US English and UK English, like ‘Lego’ or ‘accommodation’ (both uncountable in the UK but countable in the US).

Here are some kinds of nouns that are often uncountable:

  • Abstract nouns (nouns that talk about ideas): love, happiness, peace, democracy.
  • Subjects from school or university: Maths, French, history.
  • Materials: metal, wood, plastic.
  • Liquids: water, coffee, milk.
  • Gases: air, oxygen, carbon dioxide.
  • Things that are made up of lots of small pieces: sand, rice, salt.

 

Here’s a list of some uncountable nouns that we often use:

advice                            Could you give me some advice?
dust                               The old table was covered with dust.
electricity                       Electricity runs through this wire.
equipment                      Could you give me a list of the equipment we need for the trip?
evidence                         What evidence is there against John?
fog                                 I could hardly see because of the thick fog.
fun                                We had a lot of fun at the party.
furniture                         I really need to buy some new furniture for my new flat.
happiness                       How can we increase our happiness?
help                               The teacher would like some help with moving the chairs.
homework                       How much homework do you get?
information                      Could you give me some information about things to do in London?
knowledge                       He has such a lot of knowledge about history.
luck                                               I need a bit of luck!
luggage                           Please put leave all your luggage at the hotel and we’ll pick it up later.
money                             How much money do you have in your purse?
news                               The news is good! John has passed the exam!
pasta                               I love pasta!
progress                          We haven’t made much progress on our project.
research                          Julie is doing research in neuroscience.
snow                              There’s been a lot of snow this year.
spaghetti                        Could we have spaghetti with meatballs?
spinach                           She likes spinach with garlic.
traffic                             Was there a lot of traffic in central London?
vocabulary                      Vocabulary is very important in language learning.
work                               Do you have any work to do this weekend?

Words that can be both countable and uncountable

Many, many words can be used in both an uncountable way and a countable way. This is especially true of uncountable food and drink, such as ‘coffee’ or ‘yogurt’. When we’re talking in general about coffee or yogurt, the words are uncountable. But, we can use them in a countable way when we mean ‘one cup of’ or ‘one pot of’:

  • Uncountable: Coffee is my favourite drink.
  • Countable: Could you buy two coffees and two teas, please?
  • Uncountable: My children eat a lot of yogurt.
  • Countable: I bought a pack of six yogurts.

 

Other words that act like this include: water, juice, salad, curry and cake.

Another way that we use uncountable nouns in a countable way is when we use the word to mean ‘a kind of’ or ‘a type of’:

  • Uncountable: She loves cheese.
  • Countable: That shop sells lots of cheeses (=different kinds of cheese).

Other words that can be used in this way include jam, wood, plastic, bread, metal, fabric. There are a few words that change their meaning depending on if they used in a countable way or an uncountable way. For example:

Hair   Countable = one hair
        Urg! There’s a hair in my food!
        Uncountable = all the hair on a person’s head
        She has very beautiful hair.

Paper  Countable = a newspaper
           I bought all the papers this morning.
           Uncountable = paper in general
           Could you give me some paper to write on?

Light  Countable = a single lamp or light bulb
          The Christmas tree was covered in lights.
          Uncountable = light in general
          The room was full of light.

Experience  Countable = one event
                    I travelled to Thailand and it was a really great experience.
                    Uncountable = when you’ve done something for a long time
                    She has a lot of experience with children.

 

Nouns which are always plural

 

Some nouns are always used in a plural form and with a plural verb. You can’t count them in the normal way. Sometimes you can use phrases like ‘one pair of’ or ‘three pairs of’ if you’d like to count them. Nouns like this are often clothes, or tools that have two parts. Here’s a list of words that are always plural:

Trousers                                 My trousers are too long.
Tights                                                       I need to wear tights with this dress.
Shorts                                                      He bought some blue shorts.
Scissors                                                  There are three pairs of scissors in the drawer.
Tweezers                                               Could you pass me those tweezers?
Binoculars                                            She gave me some binoculars.
Glasses (for seeing better)        I’ve lost my glasses!
Sunglasses                              My sunglasses are in my bag.
Clothes                                                    She put her clothes in the suitcase.
Belongings                              Whose belongings are these?
Congratulations                                Many congratulations!

Would you like more practice? Get a new grammar lesson every day in Walton Palmer Academies.

 

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