GRAMMAR ZONE: COPING WITH UNCOUNTABLE OR NON-COUNT NOUNS

An article written by Moshood Alabi, PhD Candidate, University of Lagos, Nigeria

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One of the obscure labels in the English Language that can mislead the users through their names is UNCOUNTABLE NOUN. If a student is asked to define an uncountable noun,the student is likely to say,
“Nouns that cannot be counted.” Is that not true? Of course, it is. This definition might confuse the users further if it involves a word like money. Can’t money be counted? Money is categorized as an uncountable noun as it is a synonym for wealth.
Let me simplify it. A noun is uncountable when:
  • It does not change in form both in singular and plural forms
  • It cannot be quantified through the cardinal numbers like one,two and three

What is the need for this piece?

Some users tend to use some needless determiners to make uncountable nouns look countable. Let us examine some of the determiners that must not be used before uncountable nouns.

Before that,here are few examples of uncountable nouns.
music, art, love, happiness
advice, information, news
furniture, luggage
rice, sugar, butter, water
electricity, gas, power
money, currency
Back to the initial discussion. Do not use these determiners before uncountable nouns.
1. The indefinite article A/AN.
The article also means one. Whenever the indefinite article A/An is used before an uncountable noun,it implies one.
Never say,
I will give you an advice✖
I have a work to do✖
The two nouns ADVICE and WORK are uncountable. The phrase A PIECE OF can be used to quantify the nouns . These can be written as:
I will give you a piece of advice.

I have a piece of work to do.

However, it was established by some users especially in some dictionaries that the indefinite article can be used when the uncountable noun is preceded by an adjective.

A good Information
A beautiful accommodation
An appropriate advice
2. The following determiners are also not used before uncountable nouns
Each
Every
Several
Many
Few
A few
Can you be very careful not to make these mistakes?
Never say:
Every Information is important.✖
Each corruption recorded is real.✖

Several behavior was observed.✖

You can obviously correct the sentences by inserting the appropriate determiners. However, these determiners can agree with uncountable nouns.
Some
Much
Little
A little
Lots of
A lot of
I can confidently write:
I have some advice for you.
I have much work to do.
In conclusion, it is important to be mindful of the determiners used before uncountable nouns so as to avoid this basic usage error.
It is important to note that uncountable nouns usually agree with a singular verb as well.
The equipment is expensive.
The information is true.
Anytime you realize that a noun is uncountable, remember to apply the basic rules that govern its usage.

Moshood Alabi is a writer, an English language instructor, a public speaker and columnist. He is the Director of Studies of Stylisticians School of Public Speaking and Communication Skills (SSSPSC) in Nigeria.

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