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.

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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 monies’ 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
  • evidence

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
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