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Uncountables and Countables
When studying a noun phrase, one of the most important points is to know whether the different nouns used are COUNTABLES (which means that you can count them) or UNCOUNTABLES ( which means that it's impossible to do it ! ). As a matter of fact, this distinction has a lot of consequences on the use and the construction of these nouns.
I) THE UNCOUNTABLES :
1) Characterictics of the Uncountables:
- They have no plural. The verb which accompanies them is ALWAYS IN THE SINGULAR.
ex : Your hair is too long ! You should have it cut !
- In front of them, it's impossible to have a number [(either a cardinal one : one, two, three... etc.) or an ordinal one : (first, second, third ...)], 'few/a few/many', nor the indefinite article : 'a/an'.
- An Uncountable can be preceded by 'some, any, no', 'little', 'a little', much, this/that (but not 'these/ those' [which are plurals].
If we want to be more precise, 'a lot of', or'a piece of'... or even, the absence of indefinite article must be used.
ex : How many pieces of luggage did you bring ? I can find only two (pieces of furniture)!
2) What are the Uncountables ?
- They are concrete nouns expressing materials (cotton, iron, gold, velvet ...), food (chocolate, butter, beer, tea, wine ...)
ex : What a disaster ! You've run out of chocolate ...
- human activities : business, work, swimming, housing, etc.
ex : Business is slack just now ...
ex : All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy ! BUT ... All play and no work makes Jack a silly boy !
- Nouns belonging to a set of matching pieces :
** concrete nouns : furniture, luggage in British English - baggage in American English.
ex : She has too much furniture in a tiny room ... and it's not good quality !
** abstract nouns corresponding to French plurals (and perhaps in other languages too): information, advice, progress, the news, knowledge, evidence, nonsense, trouble, etc.
ex : 'You've made so much progress recently !' 'Yes, I knew that my father's advice was good, and I followed it !'
** Nouns concerning the weather: weather, thunder, lightning, smoke ...
ex : We had terrible weather during our weekend there !
II) COUNTABLES :
Characteristics of countables :
- They indicate elements which can be counted : Therefore, they can be used either in the singular or in the plural.
- They can be preceded by a number (either cardinal or ordinal), by 'many', 'few', 'a few', 'several', 'these' and 'those', 'a' ou 'an' ...
ex : Many students were punished because several of them had cheated and only a few confessed it !
III) EITHER ONE OR THE OTHER :
- some nouns can be countables sometimes, and uncountables at other times..
ex : TIME : Uncount. = 'Time flies !'
ex : Count. = I hope you're having a good time.
- Some singular (strange !) plurals and singulars ... :
** They end with an -s and YET, they're singulars : 'Mathematics' ; 'Economics' ; 'the News' ; 'the United States' + IS ...
ex : Mathematics was so difficult ...It was my worst nightmare !
ex : For a lot of immigrants, the United States was the land of milk and honey !
*** Some are OFTEN followed by a verb in the plural : 'the government' (when you consider its different members), 'the audience' (considered as many individuals together ...), 'family' (When we consides all its members ...), 'the crowd' (a group of individuals) , 'sheep' (when part of a herd).
ex : Our family were supporting us through our grief ...
**** Others are ALWAYS followed by a verb in the plural : 'the police' (if you want to mention a single man, you must specify : 'a policeman'), 'clothes', 'cattle'.
ex : The police are investigating a murder in the neighbourhood.
***** A few have the same form in the singular and in the plural : A TV series => 'a series' => 'series'; 'a means' = a way to do something => 'means of transportation' ....
ex : There's a means to get help !
Well ! Now, you must be ready for the exercice ... an easy one ... Good luck !
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