In English grammar, countable nouns are individual people, animals, places, things, or ideas which can be counted.
Anything that can be counted, whether singular – a dog, a house, a friend, etc. or plural – a few books, lots of oranges, etc. is a countable noun.
- There are at least twenty Italian restaurants in Little Italy.
- Megan took a lot of photographs when she went to the Grand Canyon.
- Your book is on the kitchen table.
- How many candles are on that birthday cake?
Anything that cannot be counted is an uncountable noun. Even though uncountable nouns are not individual objects, they are always singular and one must always use singular verbs in conjunction with uncountable nouns. Examples
- There is no more water in the pond.
- Please help yourself to some cheese.
- I need to find information about Pulitzer Prize winners.
- You seem to have a high level of intelligence.
- Please take good care of your equipment.
- Let’s get rid of the garbage.
Nouns which can be both countable and Uncountable
Countable: The animal
- We have ten cows and fifteen chickens on our farm.
Uncountable: The food
- Would you like some chicken?
Countable: Individual documents
- I showed my papers to the immigration agent.
Uncountable: Paper in general
- I need to buy some paper – our printer is all out.
Countable: Specific events, moments in time
- We’ve been to Tokyo three times.
Uncountable: The general concept of time
- I didn’t have enough time to finish reading the book.
Countable: Individual strands of hair
- The last time I was at that restaurant, I found two hairs in my food!
Uncountable: Hair in general
- My sister has blonde hair.
Countable: The specific places in a house, apartment, hotel, etc.
- Our house has five rooms: the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, and family room.
Uncountable: “Room” meaning “space” in general
- I’ll make some room for these new books in the bookshelf.
Countable: Specific memories of past events
- I have fond memories of the volleyball games my friends and I used to play in college.
Uncountable: The ability to remember (in general)
- I have a terrible memory. I always forget people’s names!
Coffee / Water / Beer / Tea / Soda
Countable: When asking for a specific number of these drinks
- Could you bring us three coffees with milk, and two herbal teas?
Uncountable: When talking about the drink in general
- I drink a lot of coffee, but I don’t drink very much beer.
In English there are three articles: a, an, and the. Articles are used before nouns or noun equivalents and are a type of adjective. The indefinite article (a, an) is used before a noun that is general or when its identity is not known.
You use one or the other, depending on the first letter of the word following the article, for pronunciation reasons. Use a when the next word starts with a consonant, or before words starting in u and eu when they sound like you. Use an when the next word starts with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) or with a mute h.
- a boy
- an apple
- a car
- a helicopter
- an elephant
- a big elephant
- an itchy sweater
- an ugly duck
- a european
- a university
- a unit
- an hour
- an honor
- Would you like a drink?
- I’ve finally got a good job.
- An elephant and a mouse fell in love.
- I can think of a hundred reasons not to come.
- I need a kilogram of sugar.
- John is a doctor.
Point to note: We don’t use A/AN with possessive pronouns, demonstratives or cardinal numbers.
- My shirt is dirty.
- This car is expensive.
- One person is in the reception.
We use ONE (or more) instead of A/AN when the number is important.
- There is only one exit from the airport.
The definite article (the) is used before a noun to indicate that the identity of the noun is known to the reader.
Musical instruments (the violin, the guitar, the drums, the flute, the piccolo).
- She plays the piano.
Something that is unique or there is only one.
- the sun
- the moon
- the internet.
Names of rivers, seas, oceans, mountain ranges and deserts (always in capitals).
- The Mississippi River
- The Black Sea
- The Andes
- The Sahara Desert
Directions (cardinal points).
- the west
- the south-east
- the north-west.
- On Monday, an unarmed man stole $1,000 from the bank. The thief hasn’t been caught yet.
- I was walking past Benny’s Bakery when I decided to go into the bakery to get some bread.
- There’s a position available in my team. The job will involve some international travel.
- The sun rose at 6:17 this morning.
- You can go anywhere in the world.
- Clouds drifted across the sky.
- We went on a walk in the forest yesterday.
- Where is the bathroom?
Absence of Articles( To signify Change of meaning)
We use no article with:
1. When we refer to general ideas, plurals or uncountable nouns we do not use THE.
- Religion is an important issue. (NOT The religion is an important issue)
- Mexican food is spicy. (NOT The Mexican food is spicy).
2. Names of people, books and plays (unless it is part of the title).
- I have read Romeo and Juliet.
3. Towns, cities, states and countries.
- Cape Town
(Exceptions – The USA, The UK, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, The Philippines).
4. Lakes, single islands, continents or mountains.
- Lake Victoria
- Mt Fuji
6. Sports or games