Countable & Uncountable nouns (1)

Nouns can be countable or uncountable. When you learn a new noun you should make a note of whether it is countable or uncountable as we use different words with countables and uncountables.
Countable nouns

  • There is a cat in the garden.
  • There are some birds in the trees.

For positive sentences we can use a/an or some (with a plural verb form)

  • There isn’t a dog in the garden.
  • There aren’t any birds in the tree.

For negatives we can use a/an or any (with a plural verb form).

  • Is there an orange on the tree?
  • Are there any chairs in the garden?
  • How many chairs are there?

In questions we use a/anany or how many.

Uncountable nouns

  • There is some milk on the floor.

Uncountable nouns have no plural. The verb form is singular and we use some.

  • Is there any sugar?
  • How much wine is there?

In questions we can use any or how much.

Other expressions of quantity

  • There are a lot of apples on the trees.
  • There is a lot of snow on the road.

A lot of can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.

  • Bill Gates has much money.

Notice that we don’t usually use ‘much’ or ‘many’ in positive sentences. We use ‘a lot of’.

  • Bill Gates has a lot of money.
  • There’s a lot of beer but there isn’t much wine.
  • There are a lot of carrots but there aren’t many potatoes.

We use not many with countable nouns and not much with uncountable nouns.

 


 

Countable & Uncountable nouns (2)

Some words can be both countable and uncountable depending on how they are used.

  • Would you like a chocolate?
  • Would you like some chocolate?

In a box of chocolates, the chocolates are countable and you can take one.
When you have a bar of chocolate the chocolate is uncountable and you can take some.

There are several other nouns that can be both countable and uncountable.

  • Can I have a glass of water, please?
  • There’s some broken glass on the pavement.

Glass’ is one. Many foodstuffs can be countable or uncountable. Think about the difference between ‘an ice cream’ and ‘some ice cream’ and ‘a coffee’ and ‘some coffee

‘few/a few’ and ‘little/a little’

We use few and a few with countable nouns and we use little and a little with uncountable nouns.

  • A few friends are coming round for dinner tonight.
  • We’ve got a little time before our train leaves. Shall we go to a museum?

A few and a little both mean ‘some’. They have a positive meaning.

  • I’ve got very few friends here. I feel really lonely.
  • We’ve got very little time – hurry up or we’ll miss the train.

Few and little both mean ‘almost none’. They have a negative meaning.

Commonly confused words

  • I’d like an information about train times please
  • I’d like some information about train times please.

Although ‘information’ is countable in many languages, it is uncountable in English.

  • Have you had any news from Pete?
  • I haven’t brought much luggage with me.
  • Can you give me some advice please?

As well as information, the following words are all uncountable: newsluggageadvicefurnitureweathertravel.

Articles

THE

Articles in English are invariable. That is, they do not change according to the gender or number of the noun they refer to, e.g. the boy, the woman, the children

‘The’ is used:

  1. to refer to something which has already been mentioned.

An elephant and a mouse fell in love.

The mouse loved the elephant’s long trunk,
and
 the elephant loved the mouse’s tiny nose.

  1. when both the speaker and listener know what is being talked about, even if it has not been mentioned before.

‘Where’s the bathroom?
‘It’s on
 the first floor.’

  1. in sentences or clauses where we define or identify a particular person or object:

The man who wrote this book is famous.
‘Which car did you scratch?’ ‘The red one.
My house is
 the one with a blue door.’

  1. to refer to objects we regard as unique:

the sun, the moon, the world

  1. before superlatives and ordinal numbers:

the highest building, the first page, the last chapter.

  1. with adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people:

the Japanese, the old

  1. with names of geographical areas and oceans:

the Caribbean, the Sahara, the Atlantic

  1. with decades, or groups of years:

she grew up in the seventies


A / AN

Use a’ with nouns starting with a consonant (letters that are not vowels), 
‘an’
 with nouns starting with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u)

Examples

  • Aboy
  • Anapple
  • Acar
  • Anorange
  • Ahouse
  • Anopera

Note
An before an h mute – an hour, an honour.
A before u and eu when they sound like ‘you’: a european, a university, a unit

The indefinite article is used:

  • to refer to something for the first time:
    An elephant
    and a mouse fell in love.
    Would you like
     a drink?
    I’ve finally got
     a good job.
  • to refer to a particular member of a group or class

Examples

  • with names of jobs:
    John isa doctor.
    Mary is training to be
     an engineer.
    He wants to be
     a dancer.
  • with nationalities and religions:
    John isan Englishman.
    Kate is
     a Catholic.
  • with musical instruments:
    Sherlock Holmes was playinga violin when the visitor arrived.
    (BUT to describe the activity we say “He plays the violin.”)
  • with names of days:
    I was born ona Thursday
  • to refer to a kind of, or example of something:
    the mouse hada tiny nose
    the elephant had
     a long trunk
    it was
     a very strange car
  • with singular nouns, after the words‘what’ and ‘such’:
    What a shame!
    She’s such
     a beautiful girl.
  • meaning ‘one’, referring to a single object or person:
    I’d likean orange and two lemons please.
    The burglar took
     a diamond necklace and a valuable painting.

Notice also that we usually say a hundred, a thousand, a million.

NOTE: that we use ‘one to add emphasis or to contrast with other numbers: 
I don’t know one person who likes eating elephant meat.
We’ve got six computers but only one printer.

Adjectives & Prepositions

 

Some adjectives go with certain prepositions. There is no real pattern – you need to learn them as you meet them. Here are some examples but remember that there are many other adjective + preposition combinations that are not covered here.

With ‘at’

  • I’m quite good at English but I’m bad at maths and I’m terrible at physics.

With ‘for’

  • Jogging is good for your health but smoking is bad for you.
  • The town is famous for its cheese.

As well as ‘good for’, ‘bad for’ and ‘famous for’ we also say ‘qualified for’ ‘ready for’, ‘responsible for’, ‘suitable for’ and several others.

With ‘of’

I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself, thank you.
I’m very fond of this old sweatshirt.

As well as ‘capable of’ and ‘fond of’ we also say ‘aware of’, ‘full of’, ‘tired of’ and several others.

With ‘with’

  • We’re very pleased with your progress.
  • You’re not still angry with me are you?

As well as ‘pleased with’ and ‘angry with’ we also say ‘bored with’, ‘delighted with’, ‘satisfied with’ and several others.

With ‘to’

  • She’s the one who’s married to a doctor, isn’t she?
  • You’ll be responsible to the head of the Finance department.

Notice that you can be responsible for something but responsible to someone.

Other common adjective + preposition combinations include ‘interested in’ and ‘keen on’. It’s a good idea to make a note of new combinations in your vocabulary notebook as you meet them. Remember that a preposition is followed by a noun or a gerund (‘ing’ form).