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illustrated grammar

Names for things: nouns

5

Nouns are the words we use to give names to things, actions and people.  There 4 different types of nouns but they all do the same thing.

Examples in red on this page are wrong.


einstein

Proper nouns

Albert Einstein  

Proper nouns are the names for people and places.  They usually begin with a CAPITAL letter.  Here are some examples:


army

Collective nouns

In all languages, some nouns are used for groups of things or people.  In English, these can be both singular and plural but in most languages (yours?) they are only singular.  For example, in English, we can say:
    The army is very large (thinking about it as a single thing)
and
    The army are helping
(thinking about the army as a lot of people)
We can also have:
    The football team are playing on Sunday
and
    The football team is playing on Sunday
In the first one, we are thinking about all the players separately; in the second one we are thinking of it as a single thing, the team.
Other collective nouns are, e.g., navy, crew, flock, herd, staff, committee, government, class, staff etc.
In American English these words are normally used with a singular verb.
What does your language do?


milkpencils

Mass nouns and Count nouns

This is a very important difference in English

milk pencils  

Most nouns in English are count nouns.  Count nouns have a singular (for one) and plural (for more than one).  This means we can say, for example:
I have three pencils
I want that pencil
The pencil is here
Those pencils are no good
Please give me a pencil
I have several pencils on the desk

Many nouns in English are mass nouns.  These nouns do not have a plural.  We can say, for example:
I want that milk
I have some milk
The milk is here
This milk is bad
Please give me some milk
I have some milk in the glass
BUT we CANNOT say:
I have three milks This is wrong because we cannot count milk
I want those milks This is wrong because milk cannot have a plural
Those milks are no good This is wrong because we cannot have a plural and we cannot use a plural verb (are) with a mass noun like milk

Mass nouns always use a singular verb and never take a plural.

Most mass nouns are:

Materials: metals, liquids, gases, cloth etc.
iron
For example:
It's made of iron
She needs water
There's no air in here
The chair is covered with blue cloth
     Ideas and Feelings
love
For example:
She has no understanding
You have my sympathy
Love is important for children
His anger was clear
Small objects
rice
For example:
They grow rice here
The sand gets in my shoes
The dust is everywhere
Use milk powder in the pudding
     States
sleep
For example:
I need more sleep
Childhood is a good time
You can't buy happiness
Weather
snow
For example:
There's a lot of snow this winter
We have a lot of rain in the spring
The sunshine is nice
 

There are hundreds of mass nouns in English but here is a list of very common ones:

advice
air
anger
art
bread
cash
cheese
childhood
clothing
coffee
damage
danger
education
energy
equipment
fire
food
freedom
friendship
fun
furniture
gold
hair
happiness
health
heat
help
honesty
housework
humour
imagination
information
intelligence
kindness
knowledge
labour
laughter
love
luck
management
metal
milk
money
music
news
paper
pronunciation
punctuation
quality
quantity
rain
rice
rubbish
safety
sand
shopping
sleep
smoke
snow
soup
sport
strength
sugar
sunshine
tea
time
traffic
transportation
travel
understanding
warmth
water
weather
weight
wood
work

All the words in this list are usually mass nouns in English.
Are they the same in your language?  For example, can you say three informations in your language?  You cannot say that in English.

grammar

The grammar of mass and count nouns

before

Noun Before the noun But ... For example
pencil
Singular count nouns like
pencil, car, house, person, cat, elephant
one, every, any, this, that, the, a(n) We must always use a determiner with these words I have only one pencil
Every pencil is broken
Any pencil is OK
This pencil is no good
That pencil is better

WRONG:
I live in house
I have much pencil
Pencil is on the table
pencils
Plural count nouns like
pencils, cars, houses, people, cats, elephants
many, some, several, these, those, the, a couple of or no word a/an is not possible
It is possible to have no determiner
I have many pencils
I want some pencils
There are several pencils on the desk
These pencils are no good
Those pencils are better
Give me a couple of pencils
Pencils must be sharp

WRONG:
This pencils are good
A pencils are OK
milk
Mass nouns like
milk, information, hope, education, tea
much, little, less, more, this, that or no word How much milk do we have?
We have a little milk
There is less milk in the fridge
Give me some more milk
This milk is bad
That milk is better
Milk is good for children

WRONG:
I have a milk
I have several milk
Every milk is good
These milk are OK
A couple of milk is good

after the noun

Noun After the noun But ... For example
pencil
Singular count nouns like
pencil, car, house, person, cat, elephant, team
a singular verb like is, breaks, opens, lives Collective nouns can be plural The pencil is on the floor
The car was clean
The houses look nice
The person is ringing the bell
The cats sleep here
The elephant smells awful
The team is coming

The team are playing
WRONG:
The pencil are here
The house are open
pencils
Plural count nouns like
pencils, cars, houses, people, cats, elephants, team
Always a plural verb Singular collective nouns (like team or family) can be plural The pencils are on the desk
The cars have arrived
The houses look beautiful
The people are here
The cats are eating
The elephants are angry
The team are here

Her family are really friendly
WRONG:
These pencils is good
A pencil are OK
milk
Mass nouns like
milk, information, hope, education, tea
Always a singular verb No exceptions The milk is in the fridge
The information is useful
Hope is important
Education is necessary
Tea is common in England

WRONG:
Some milk are in the fridge
Some informations are helpful

Now you can take a test on all this to see if you understand.