By the end of this lesson, you will be able to
- distinguish between count nouns and non-count nouns.
- Use count and non-count nouns appropriately.
What are count nouns?
A count noun (also known as a countable noun) names something you can count. Examples of count nouns are pen, boys, car, books, chair, lessons, goats, and woman.
How do we use count nouns?
- Count nouns generally have two forms. These are the singular form and the plural form. Observe the two forms in the table below.
Let us use the two forms in a couple of sentences.
- There is a table in our headmaster’s office. (Notice the use of the singular form ‘table’ in this sentence).
- There are many tables in our classroom. (Notice the use of the plural form ‘tables’ in this sentence).
- There is only one stadium in my home region but there are three stadia in Accra.
Notice that, for most count nouns, the plural is formed by adding ‘-s’ to the singular form. However, there are many count nouns that form their plural in a different manner. This will be our subject of discussion in our next Grammar lesson.
- Count nouns in the singular form are introduced by such words as ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’,‘my’, ‘each’, ‘this’ „that‟, etc. For example:
- The ball has fallen into the soup.
- The woman visited her son.
- This story sounds incredible.
- A dog can be a faithful friend.
In the examples above, it is obvious that the determiner cannot be left out since the noun underlined is in the singular form.
Now, look at another set of examples where the count noun is introduced by the article ‘a’.
- The rose is a flower.
- The leopard is a cat.
In the example above, the article ‘a’ can be replaced with the expression ‘a kind of’. Thus, the article ‘a’in the sentences,
- The rose is a flower.
- The leopard is a cat.
can be replaced with the expression ‘a kind of’ as you can see in the sentences below.
- The rose is a k ind of flower.
- The leopard is a k ind of cat.
What is a non-count noun?
A non-count noun (also known as an uncountable noun) names something you cannot count. They refer to things that are seen as indivisible wholes or masses. For this reason they are also called mass nouns. Examples of non-count nouns are water, rice, ink, education, honesty, love and peace.
How do we use non-count nouns?
- Usually, non-count nouns cannot be used in the plural. For example:
- We breathe in air.
- All living things need water.
- Milk is good for growing children.
You notice that the non-count nouns ‘air’, ‘water’, and ‘milk’, as used in the examples above, cannot occur in the plural form. So, normally, non-count nouns cannot be used in the plural.
- Non-count nouns may be used without an article. For example:
- Air is necessary for all living things.
- The village has been without good water for ages.
- Milk is scarce these days.
You can see from the example above that the non-count nouns ‘air’, ‘water’, and ‘milk’ appear in the sentences without any article preceding them. So, a non-count noun may be used without an article introducing it.
- Non-count nouns can be used with the determiners muchand little. For example:
- Samuel studied English with much enthusiasm.
- There is very little milk left in the tin.
It is also possible to refer to a certain amount of a non-count noun using some, any, a little, a great deal of. For example:
- Can you give me some money for the programme next year?
- Well, I think I can save a little money for you.
- We now have a great deal of furniture in our school.
In Example above, the non-count noun ‘money’ is preceded by the determiner ‘some’, and the resultant phrase is ‘some money’. In the other Example, the non-count noun ‘money’ is referred to by using the expression ‘a little’, and the resultant phrase is ‘a little money’. The non-count noun ‘furniture’ is referred to by using the expression ‘a great deal of’, and the resultant phrase is ‘a great deal of furniture’.
- A non-count noun is regarded as a general or a collective name for all things of a particular kind. For example, in the sentence, Water is life.
the non-count noun „water‟ is used as a collective name for its kind; it does not refer to a separate unit of water. If we want to refer to a separate unit of water, then we can use the expression ‘a drop of water’.
Observe that, if you want to refer to a non-count noun as a separate unit, then you can introduce the non-count noun with such an expression as „a piece of’ or „an item of. For example:
- Akosua put a piece of wood on the floor.
- The police left an item of equipment in the suspect’s room.
Alternatively, you can use a different word altogether. Below are some examples of expressions of non-count nouns used as a separate piece.
Non-count noun (general name) Non-count noun (separate piece )
|a drop of water|
|a shower of rain|
a tin of milk
|soap||…||a bar of soap|
|a piece of paper; a sheet of paper|
a loaf of bread.
|a piece of wood|
a piece of iron
|firewood||…||a stick of firewood; a log of firewood|
|luggage||…||a piece of luggage|
|a piece of furniture|
a piece of advice
|a piece of news|
a piece of information
|equipment||…||an item of equipment|
|instruction work||…||a lesson; a course of instruction, a task; a piece of work,|
|iii.||clothing||an article of clothing|
|a pair of shoes, a pair of sandals|
a piece of land
a sum of money
|iv.||lightning||…||a flash of lightning|
|a clap of thunder|
|a piece of luck|
a piece of music
|play (for recreation)||a game, a match|
|abuse poetry||…||an insult a poem|
a lump of sugar
|sand||..||a heap of sand|
- Some non-count nouns can be used as count nouns, but in such cases there is a change in meaning. For example: “play” as a non-count noun means, “what is done for recreation or amusement”, but when used as a count noun, it indicates “a dramatic work” or “a work of art”.
Meaning of non-count nouns used as count nouns
wood a wood is an area of land covered with growing trees.
land a land is a country and its people such as the land of Ghana.
work a work is an artistic production such as a piece of music, a novel, a poem or a painting.
dress a dress is a one-piece outer garment worn by a woman or a girl.
glass a glass is a drinking vessel.
cloth a cloth is a piece of material for a special purpose, for example, a dish- cloth, a table-cloth or a Kente cloth (worn in Ghana).
instruction an instruction is an order and instructions are directions.
abuse an abuse is a bad practice or an unjust custom that has become established such as an abuse of power, drug abuse, drunkenness or bribery and corruption.
paper a paper is a newspaper, an examination paper, or an examination session.
- There are certain nouns that are mistakenly regarded as non-count nouns whereas in actual fact they are count nouns. These include a cigarette, a beard, a moustache, a diamond, and an examination. For example:
- Nyumuyo is growing a beard.
- It is not proper to smoke a cigarette in class.
- Names of diseases such as measles, numbs, mumps, influenza and malaria are non- count nouns and are therefore singular. For example:
- Mumps is a deadly disease.
- Measles kills many Ghanaian children each year.
- Names of branches of knowledge such as Mathematics, Physics, Semantics, Electronics, Dynamics, Economics and Politicsare non-count and are considered as singular. For example:
- Economics is an interesting subject.
- Politics involves choosing leaders.
- Mathematics is my favourite discipline.
- Count nouns generally have two forms, the singular form and the plural form.
- Count nouns in the singular form should be introduced by determiners such as „a’, ‘an’, „the’, „my’, ‘each’, ‘this’, „that‟.
- Usually, non-count nouns cannot be used in the plural.
- Non-count nouns may be used without an article; they cannot normally be used with the indefinite article ‘a’or ‘an’.
- Non-count nouns can be used with the determiners muchand little. A certain amount of non-count nouns are introduced by some, any, a little, a great deal of.
- A non-count noun is regarded as a general or a collective name for all things of a particular kind. In this regard, if we want to refer to one of those things as a separate unit, then we can use such an expression as „a piece of’ or „an item of‟.
John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.
Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.
Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.
William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.