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Countable and Uncountable Nouns

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Let’s start at the beginning – what is a noun? 

Starting to learn a language can be daunting; most people learn their own language naturally and by assimilation so learning a new language in a structured way, can add a layer of intensity with all the names and rules associated to the skill. At EC English Language Centres, we break it down for you and we monitor progress so we can see where students are struggling or excelling, to make the most of their experience with us. 

To begin with, what exactly is a noun? A noun refers to any individual, location, or object. For instance, the term “girl” is a noun, as are “school” and “apple.” 

Diving deeper, let’s explore countable nouns. When we say something is countable, it indicates that we can determine the quantity of that item. Take for example apples. If you possess 5 apples, you can enumerate each one: 1 apple, 2 apples, and so forth until 5. When referring to countable nouns singularly, it’s customary to precede the noun with ‘a’ or ‘an’. Hence, we say, ‘a girl’, ‘a school’, or ‘an apple’. 

On the flip side, we have uncountable nouns. These refer to things that can’t be quantified individually. Consider the terms ‘knowledge’, ‘rice’, or ‘air’. We don’t attempt to quantify each grain of rice in a dish; instead, we simply request ‘rice’. When dealing with uncountable nouns, we abstain from using ‘a’ or ‘an’ prior to the noun. For instance, saying ‘a rice’ or ‘an air’ isn’t just grammatically incorrect but also sounds unnatural. It’s essential to note that unlike countable nouns, uncountable nouns don’t possess a plural variation. 

Now, delving deeper into nouns, there are two main categories: countable and uncountable nouns. 

Countable nouns, as the name suggests, can be enumerated. They have both singular and plural forms. For instance, if you possess five apples, you can quantify them: 1 apple, 2 apples, and so on up to 5 apples. Whenever we mention a singular countable noun, we preface it with “a” or “an.” Thus, we would say “a girl,” “a school,” or “an apple.” 

On the contrary, uncountable nouns cannot be itemised or tallied in the same way. Examples include concepts like knowledge, substances like rice, and elements like air. For instance, it’s uncommon to count every grain of rice in a dish. Instead, you’d simply request “some rice.” Crucially, with uncountable nouns, we never use “a” or “an” preceding them.  

Phrases such as “a rice,” “a knowledge,” or “an air” are incorrect and sound inauthentic in conversation. Another distinguishing feature of uncountable nouns is that they don’t possess a plural version. 

Remember, practise makes perfect and practising can mean watching movies and listening to music! 

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