Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to

  1. distinguish  between count nouns and non-count nouns.
  2. 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.

Singular                     Plural 

table                            tables 

man                             men 

stadium                       stadia

 radius                          radii

Let us use the two forms in a couple of sentences.

  1. There is a table in our headmaster’s office. (Notice the use of the singular form table’ in this sentence).
  2. There are many tables in our classroom. (Notice the use of the plural form ‘tables’ in this sentence).
  3.  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:
  1.  The ball has fallen into the soup.
  2. The woman visited her son.
  3. This story sounds incredible.
  4.  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’.

  1. The rose is a flower.
  2. 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,

  1. The rose is a flower.
  2. The leopard is a cat.

can be replaced with the expression ‘a kind of’ as you can see in the sentences  below.

  1. The rose is a k ind of flower.
  2. 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:
  1.  We breathe in air.
  2. All living things need water.
  3. 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:
  1.  Air is necessary for all living things.
  2. The village has been without good water for ages.
  3. 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 someanya littlea great deal ofFor 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 „piece of’ or „an item of. For example:

  1.  Akosua put a piece of wood on the floor.
  2. 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 )

i.water
food

a drop of water
a meal
 rain
milk

a shower of rain
a tin of milk
 soapa bar of soap
 paper
bread

a piece of paper; a sheet of paper
a loaf of bread.
ii.wood
iron

a piece of wood
a piece of iron
 firewooda stick of firewood; a log of firewood
 luggagea piece of luggage
 furniture
advice

a piece of furniture
a piece of advice
 news
information

a piece of news
a piece of information
 equipmentan item of equipment
 instruction work a lesson; a course of instruction, a task; a piece of work,
iii.clothingan article of clothing
 dressa garment
 footwear
land

a pair of shoes, a pair of sandals
a piece of land
 machinery
money

a machine
a sum of money
iv.lightninga flash of lightning
 thunder
permission

a clap of thunder
a permit
 luck
music

a piece of luck
a piece of music
 play (for recreation) a game, a match
abuse poetryan insult a poem

v.

sugar

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 diamondand an examinationFor example:
  1. Nyumuyo is growing a beard.
  2. 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:
  1. Mumps is a deadly disease.
  2. 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:
  1. Economics is an interesting subject.
  2. Politics involves choosing leaders.
  3. Mathematics is my favourite discipline.

Summary

  1. Count nouns generally have two forms, the singular form and the plural form.
  2. Count nouns in the singular form should be introduced by determiners such as „a’, ‘an’, the’, my’, ‘each’, ‘this’, that‟.
  3. Usually, non-count nouns cannot be used in the plural.
  4. Non-count nouns may be used without an article; they cannot normally be used with the indefinite article ‘a’or an’.
  5. 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.
  6.  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‟.

CONTENT CONSULTANTS 

Author

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

Peer Reviewers

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D. 

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil. 

William  Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.