Using articles 1 – Countable and uncountable nouns

Whenever I refer to “general article rules,” I am speaking about “definite vs indefinite” and “a vs an.”

 

Singular: One thing

Plural: Two or more things

Countable noun: A noun that you can count. Examples are; pen, bus, desk, cloud and city. Countable nouns can have plural forms. It is correct to say “one pen,” “two pens,” “three pens” or “many pens.”

Uncountable noun: A noun that you cannot count. Examples are; knowledge, importance, information, history and music. Uncountable nouns do not have plural forms. It is incorrect to say “one knowledge,” “two knowledges,” “three knowledges” or “many knowledges.”

 

Singular countable nouns

Use: “a,” “an” or “the,” based on general article rules.

Examples:

Have you seen an owl before? (an + any odd owl)

Yes, but I have never seen a lion before. (a + any odd lion)

Is that the owl that you saw yesterday? (the + specific owl)

I have a pen. I have a pineapple. (a + any odd pen / pineapple)

Plural countable nouns

Use: “the” when being specific.

Do not use: any article when speaking in general about plurals. (Instead, you can use modifiers like “some,” “many,” “a few,” “a lot of” or “most,” if you want to express quantity). 

 

Note: The indefinite article (a/an) is singular. It is derived from the Middle English “ān” meaning “one.” It is due to this, that the indefinite article cannot be used with plurals.

Examples: A day = One day. I will be back in an hour = I will be back in one hour. Here is a dollar = Here is one dollar.

Only use: “a/an” when generally speaking about a collection / group of plurals (see collective nouns). In the case of, “A packet of chips,” you are referring to the packet first, which is singular, not the chips inside, which are plural. In the question, “Would you like a packet of chips or a packet of sweets?” the person is essentially asking, “Which packet would you like?” Each packet is singular, but the contents inside are plural.

Collective nouns: an army of ants, a school of fish, a pack of wolves

Examples

Correct

The apples that you bought yesterday were delicious. (the + specific apples)

Apples are the best fruits in the world. (no article + apples in general)

I can’t even afford a packet of apples. (a + group of apples in general)

Is that the same packet of apples that Nelly was carrying? (the + specific group of apples)

I have pens. I have pineapples. (no article + any odd pens / pineapples)

Incorrect

Apples that you bought yesterday were delicious. (no article + specific apples)

The apples are the best fruits in the world. (any article + apples in general)

I can’t even afford the packet of apples. (the + group of apples in general)

I can’t even afford packet of apples. (no article + group of apples in general)

Is that a same packet of apples that Nelly was carrying? (a + specific group of apples)

Is that same packet of apples that Nelly was carrying? (no article + specific group of apples)

articles-countable-uncountable-nouns-1

Uncountable nouns

Use: “The” when speaking specifically about a certain uncountable noun.

Do not use: Any article when speaking in general about uncountable nouns. (Instead, you can use modifiers like “much,” “a lot of,” “a little,” “a bit of,” “any,” “some” or “more” to express quantity. Do not use “many” with uncountable nouns).

Examples

Correct

The advice that you gave me yesterday was really useful. (the + specific advice)

It’s not easy to give advice on personal matters. (no article + advice in general)

I need some advice. (some, expressing quantity + advice in general)

I don’t particularly like the rice that Sally sells. (the + specific rice)

You need to be very careful when you cook rice. (no article + any odd rice)

My uncle loves buying a lot of rice. ( a lot of, expressing quantity + rice in general)

Incorrect

Advice that you gave me yesterday was really useful. (no article + specific advice)

It’s not easy to give the advice on personal matters. (the + advice in general)

I need an advice. (an + advice in general)

articles-countable-uncountable-nouns-2

 

 

 

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