ielts-yasi.englishlab.net

Updated Apr. 2,  2019

 

Non-Count Nouns

Introduction

Many people make mistakes with non-count nouns (= uncountable nouns = mass nouns), (不可数名词).

There are actually two different types of nouns that some people incorrectly use in the plural form:

A) Non-Count Nouns and,

B) Countable Group Nouns

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A) Non-Count Nouns

Basically, these nouns represent a type (or general classification) of thing, material, activity, language usage etc.

These nouns (usually) have no plural form, or are usually used in the singular form.. (Sometimes a word is countable when it is used to express something specific, not a general type or classification.)

Here is a short list of some of the words that people most commonly incorrectly use in the plural form: There are several more non-count nouns but the ones below are the most common ones that people make mistakes with.

rubble, grass, glass, work, homework, housework, shift work, baggage, luggage, equipment, experience, furniture, machinery, help, advice, gossip, slang, information, knowledge, vocabulary, time, money, food, service, vegetation, scenery ....

You cannot say, "advices" nor can you say, "an advice", "a furniture" or "an equipment" etc. because "a" and "an" mean "one", which is counting.

"Suggestion" is countable but "advice" is not because advice just means a certain type of (a certain "function") of speaking, the type of language that is meant to help someone.

Some uncountable words are used in the plural form when they have different meaning to the usual meaning. For example, "works" means "pieces of literary, musical or other artistic creation". "Works" is also used as part of some compound words to mean, "a place", such as "a steelworks" ( a factory where steel is made) and "a waterworks" ( a place where water is pumped and supplied to a district). These (steelworks, waterworks etc.) always have an "s" after the word "work" but are treated as a singular place (as one place) so the word, "a" is used before them such as, "a steelworks". See a longer list of this group of words on this page: http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/TYPE_1_PAGE_6.htm.

Of course, "a pair of glasses" is something you wear on your face to help you see (pairs can be counted). In the old days, people just wore one of them, called "a looking glass". Today, "two glasses"  means, "two containers, made of glass, for drinking" but you could also call those two things, "a pair of glasses", just like saying, "a pair of knives". This is a rare example of two possible different meanings for the same expression.

But you cannot say, "There were many glasses on the road after the car accident." You have to say, "There were many pieces of glass on the road after the car accident." Many of the words in the box above can be preceded by, "piece of" or "pieces of" and all them can be preceded by, "some", "a lot of", "lots of" and, "plenty of".

Some other uncountable nouns are used in the plural when the meaning is, "specific types (or specific examples) of this noun". For example, the noun, "grass" is uncountable in the usual usage. So, if you want to say 很多草 in English, you say, "a lot of grass", "lots of grass", "plenty of grass" or, more formally, "much grass". We don't say, "many grasses". However, you can say something such as this, "This scientist has studied many different grasses (= many different varieties of grass)".

"Food" and "Foods"

Probably the most common example of this that IELTS students encounter is "foods". Remember, "foods" = "types of food", "kinds of food", " sorts of food", "examples of food", "groups of food", "classes of food", "classifications of food"  or, "styles of food". Similarly, "foods" can mean, "a variety of food" or "a range of food" since "variety" and "range" have a plural meaning.

The following are some examples of the use of "foods":        

"The health food shop sells different health foods" = "The health food shop sells different types of health food" = ."The health food shop sells different types of health foods".

"She is a nutrition expert. She has studied all the different foods" = "She is a nutrition expert. She has studied all the different food groups" = "She is a nutrition expert. She has studied all the different types of food" = "She is a nutrition expert. She has studied all the different types of foods".

"For good nutrition, people need to eat different foods" = "For good nutrition, people need to eat different types of food" = "For good nutrition, people need to eat different types of foods" = "For good nutrition, people need to eat from the different food groups".

Example from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food -

"Sourness is caused by the taste of acids, such as vinegar in alcoholic beverages. Sour foods include citrus, specifically lemons, limes, and to a lesser degree oranges." 

Two more examples from Wikipedia -

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food#/media/File:Good_Food_Display_-_NCI_Visuals_Online.jpg 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food#/media/File:Foods_%28cropped%29.jpg
 

Should "types of" (plural) be followed by a singular noun, or a plural noun?

It is equally correct to use "types of" + a singular noun or, "types of" + a plural noun. For example, "different types of food" and "different types of foods" are both correct. Different English speakers have their own habit or preference for which one they use. (Personally, I prefer the first example..)

If you use, "types of food" then your meaning is, "types of this one material, food".

If you use, "types of foods", then your meaning is, "types of these materials, foods". I think this is more suitable if you have already mentioned in your essay or discussion that there are different types of food but this is not always necessary before using, "types of foods". This is because when you use, "types of" you are automatically including the fact that there is more than one type.

Two more examples -

"Fruit" is one type of food. It is equally correct to say, "I eat many different types of fruit" and, "I eat many different types of fruits". (Again, I prefer the first example here.)

"Apple" is a type of a type of food. That is, apples are types of fruit, and fruit is a type of food. But this fact doesn't seem to make any difference to the structure of the sentences. Again, "I like all kinds of apples" and, "I like all kinds of apple" are both correct. ( I use both but I probably use the first one more after, "all kinds of".)

It is incorrect to say, "An apple is a type of  foods" or, "An apple is a type of fruits". Those statements should be, "An apple is a type of food" or "An apple is a type of fruit". So, when the singular, "type of" is used, it should be followed by a singular noun.

 

"Experience" and "Experiences"

Another frequent error that IELTS candidates make is this: "I can't find a job because I haven't had any work experiences". This plural form is incorrect because the speaker does not mean, "specific examples of experience"; the speaker is just talking about "experience in general" or "experience in totality". That sentence should be, "I can't find a job because I haven't had any work experience." However, the following example is correct: "I went to Africa and had many interesting and exciting experiences while I was there. For example, once a lion came within ten metres of me when I was taking photographs in Kenya."

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B) Countable Group Nouns

This group of nouns can be used in the plural form but many people incorrectly use the plural form when they really mean, "the members of this one group".

For example, the word, "family" is a group noun and it is correct to say, "Many families live in this town." The mistake that people make is to say things such as, "My families all know how to play a musical instrument" when they should say, "The members of my family all know how to play a musical instrument" or, "All my family know how to play a musical instrument". In other words, don't use the plural form of the group name when you really mean the members of this one group.

Here is a short list of some countable group nouns that are incorrectly used in this way:

staff, assembly, audience, family, group, gang, band, crew, club, company, population, community, government, class, team, choir, orchestra, army, flock (of sheep or birds),

To complicate matters, when using these words, British English usually uses plural verbs while American English usually uses singular verbs. That is, British English usually uses, "are" when American English uses, "is". Both are correct since there are two varieties of "Standard English" but in the IELTS test British English is a little "more correct"!

Some examples of correct usage:

"The class is having an exam at the moment." (U.S.) or, "The class are having an exam at the moment." (Br.)  (Where "class" = a group of students.)

"The government is considering this new law." (U.S.) or, "The government are considering this new law." (Br.)

"The group meets every Friday night" (U.S.) or, "The group meet every Friday night". (Br.)

"The audience is enjoying this concert." (U.S.) or, "The audience are enjoying this concert." (Br.)

 "My family is/are happy." (U.S.) or, "My family are happy." (Br.)

"The staff are busy." (Both U.S. & Br.)

"The population is shrinking." (Both U.S. & Br.)

My suggestion is this If you are mainly thinking of the group as one unit then use a singular verb, such as "is". But if you are mainly thinking of the members of the group then use a plural verb, such as "are". In either case, don't add an "s" to the group noun.

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