GTE 1999 Minigrants: Adult Learning Center - ESL Program

NON-COUNT The question on the first signpost was, "Does the listener/reader know which definite noun I'm talking about?"

The next signpost question was, "Is this noun plural?" If the answer to both of these questions is, "No," then go on.

The THIRD SIGNPOST asks, "Is it hard to count this noun?"

GUIDELINE I: If the noun that you are talking about is made up of small particles (like salt) or is a liquid, or something that has no shape or size of its own, then you cannot count it easily. You do not use a noun marker, and in this lesson, this lack of a noun marker will be shown by this symbol ~.

Pick up ~bread, ~milk, ~sugar, please. Put ~gas in the car, and the front tire needs ~air, too.

Here is a partial list of nouns that are 'mass' or non-count:

air bread butter cake candy

chalk cheese cloth chocolate coffee

deodorant detergent disinfectant dirt dust

fabric fish fog food fuel

fur furniture gasoline garbage glue

gold grass gravy ink ice

ice cream jam jelly juice ketchup

land lotion mayonnaise meat mustard

medicine metal milk moonlight oil

paint paper perfume plastic poison

preservative rain ribbon rice

salad salt sauce soap soil

soup snow sugar sunshine tea

toothpaste water weather wine wood

yarn yogurt

POTHOLE: Even though it is easy to count money, it is a non-count noun!

They have a lot of ~money. I don't have any ~money in my pocket.

POTHOLE: To talk about a quantity of one of these nouns, you need to refer to the container or unit it is in.

Get a pound of ~coffee and two jars of ~jam.

My grandpa homesteaded five acres of land.

She slipped on a bar of soap.

Chicago got five inches of snow.

Could you bring me a packet of non-sugar sweetener, please?

Here are some common units:

a cup of tea a glass of water a pitcher of cream

a drop of rain a grain of sand a spoonful/ a lump of sugar

a quart of oil a gallon of gas a loaf/ a slice of bread

a bottle of ketchup a dish of ice cream a bowl of cereal

a ton of soil a yard of fabric an ounce of chocolate

a pinch of salt a pound of butter a piece of pie

a penny a dime a quarter

DOUBLE POTHOLE: In everyday usage we are starting to refer to a cup of coffee, etc., as if it were a count noun. I'm, going to buy a soda. No, I'll have a latte.

Non-count/practice 1

Intermediate level

GUIDELINE II: If you are talking about a noun that names a thing, or idea that cannot be seen, touched or measured, it is called an abstract noun. Usually, these nouns don't take a noun marker.

Here is a partial list of nouns like this:

anger art beauty courage education disease

faith fear friendship freedom happiness health

history hope hunger love loyalty marriage

murder music nature patience peace poetry

religion science space time truth work

assistance beer cruelty drama electricity fiction

heat help honesty honor housework humor

inspiration intelligence integrity knowledge literature poverty

In times of ~war or ~fear, people often turn to ~faith.

POTHOLE: These abstract nouns can be made definite or indefinite, according to the normal rules. This can be done by:

adding an adjective: A solid faith like that is priceless.

adding an 'of' or 'that' phrase: He returned to the faith of his childhood.

associating it with a definite person, place or group: Siri won the poetry award.

POTHOLE: Most abstract nouns are non-count, but there are abstract count nouns, too. These can take the, an or a according to normal rules.

Here is a partial list of abstract count nouns:

address effect election hour idea issue

method minute month plan problem remark

shock suggestion week year

Do you have a minute? I'd like to talk to you about the suggestion you made.

Non-count/practice 2

POTHOLE: There are several non-count nouns which are count nouns in other languages. You must be careful not to use them as plurals, or with a or an. Included in these are group nouns such as 'baggage.'

Here is a partial list:

advice* behavior* equipment* furniture* hair*

health homework* information knowledge luggage*

machinery* money music* news* progress

research* shopping traffic travel wealth weather

*If you want to talk about these in the singular, you add 'a piece of' or a similar phrase that shows you mean one unit, not the whole. (See a listing of some of these units of measure above.)

He gave me a bit of advice. Free ~advice is usually worth about what it costs.

Do you have a lot of homework? I think we should do our ~homework together.

GUIDELINE III: Some count nouns can be changed into non-count nouns by putting any of these phrases in front of the noun: 'a kind of,' 'a type of,' 'a variety of,' 'a breed of, 'or 'a sort of.'

The kind of ~marriage my parents have is lovely. (Not 'kind of a marriage!)

Note the plural: The kinds of ~marriages both sets of my grandparents enjoyed have also been an inspiration to me.

Advanced level

There are problems with some nouns which can be both count and non-count. This changes the noun marker, of course.

GUIDELINE IV: If you are talking about a noun like 'egg,' you must decide if you are referring to it in one of two ways:

an object, for example: "Can I fry an egg for you?" (count noun)

a substance, example "I'm allergic to anything with ~egg in it." (non-count)

Here is a partial list of nouns that change meaning from count to non-count.

bone cabbage cake chicken chocolate cold

egg fish fog fruit hair lettuce

muscle onion pie pizza pudding ribbon

rock smoke stone string thread wire

For example, if you are talking about a whole fish (an object), and not just the indefinite meat from any fish (substance), you will use a noun marker.

Bob caught a nice fish, but the line snapped and the fish got away. So we had hamburger instead of ~fish for supper!

Also, if you are talking about just a part of the mass, use the.

The tea my husband likes best is Earl Grey. He prefers ~tea to ~coffee.

Non-count/practice 3

GUIDELINE V: In the same way, some abstract nouns can be either

a condition or process, for example: ~Life is beautiful. (non-count)

an example of it: A life like that of Jesus Christ can change the lives of millions of followers. (Both uses in the latter sentence are count nouns.)

Here is a partial list of nouns like this:

ambition analysis attack basis change

conflict controversy death desire difficulty

disagreement divorce doubt escape failure

improvement investment meaning noise opportunity

pregnancy pain protest rebellion recession

retreat sound sorrow suicide suspicion

theft victory war

Non-count/practice 4

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