Introduction to Nouns
Some questions of TOEIC Grammars concern nouns. The following explanations will help you understand how nouns are divided into 2 categories, countable and uncountable as well as the way nouns are used with other nouns.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Countable nouns are things that we can count! Some examples are objects (a pen, 2 computers), units of measurement (50 meters, 5 dollars), people (one man, two men)…
Uncountable nouns include liquid or solid substances, materials and commodities (water, leather, gold, information) and abstract ideas (productivity, happiness). With uncountable nouns, we cannot say ‘
5 moni es’ or ‘ an information’.
The following is a list of uncountable nouns which can be tricky:
- advice accommodation baggage cash
- equipment furniture information luggage
- machinery money news progress
- traffic travel weather work
- time change mail knowledge
Uncountable nouns are always in the singular vs plural countable nouns which take a plural verb:
- The machinery has broken down. vs The 3 fax machines have all broken down.
- The traffic was especially heavy due to the train strike. vs The cars were stuck in traffic.
- The furniture doesn’t fit in this room. vs The tables don’t all fit in this room.
We can use ‘some’ (for a small amount or quantity) or ‘a lot of’ (for a big amount or quantity) to qualify the size of an uncountable noun. There may also be the need to use ‘much’ (how much, so much, too much) or ‘little’.
- They gave me some advice. I only have a little work to finish.
- How much time does it take? There’s a lot of bad financial news these days.
For countable nouns we can also use ‘some’ and ‘a lot of’. Otherwise, the choice for showing quantity for plural count nouns is ‘many’ or ‘few/a few’:
- There are many questions to ask. We keep only a few of these models in stock.
- How many phones do you own? We have so many candidates to choose from.
We can also use words of measurement to speak about specific quantities:
- A bottle of water
- a cup of coffee
- a barrel of oil
- a slice of bread
And when we don’t have or don’t know a specific word of measurement, we can often use ‘piece’.
- a piece of furniture
- a piece of information
- a piece of advice
> Article use
We use the article ‘a’ or ‘an’ before unspecified singular countable nouns:
- A smart phone is a helpful tool.
We can use Ø article (no article) to generalize about uncountable nouns or plural countable nouns:
- Smart phones are helpful tools.
Noun + noun combinations
We can put nouns together in 3 ways:
> Noun + Noun (a horse race)
> Preposition structure (the top of the hill)
> Possessive (’s) structure (my friend’s car)
Noun + Noun
The first noun acts like an adjective, and should therefore not have a final ‘-s’ as there is no agreement in English between adjectives and nouns.
- A horse race (a kind of race) vs a race horse (a kind of horse)
- A shoe shop (NOT a shoes shop)
- A four-star hotel (NOT a four-stars hotel)
Noun + noun or preposition structure
We usually prefer a structure with a preposition for less well-known combinations. Compare:
- a war film a film about an ogre
- a postman a man from a bank
- road signs signs of anger
- a corner table the woman in the corner
Noun “strings” are OK if they are clear, but they shouldn’t look like this:
- Employee compensation level evaluation procedures
A better way to express this idea would be:
- Procedures for evaluating the compensation level of employees
Noun + Noun or possessive (’s)
The first noun is often like an object (of a verb or preposition):
- A shoe shop = a shop that sells shoes
- A war film = a film about war
We most commonly use the possessive (’s) structure to talk about something that belongs to a particular person, group, organization, country of animal. The first noun is often like a subject (usually of the verb have)
- My friend’s car : my friend has a car
- Anne’s idea: Anne had an idea
Possessive (’s) or the ‘of’ structure
We use the possessive (’s) structure especially when the first noun is the name of a person, group of people, organization, country or animal. Otherwise, we generally prefer a structure with ‘of’. Compare:
- my father’s name the name of the book
- the company’s structure the structure of plastic
- America’s influence the influence of alcohol
- the dog’s leg the leg of the table
We also use possessive (’s) structure with common time expressions:
- today’s paper
- tomorrow’s weather
- a month’s holiday