Classes of nouns
The head of a noun phrase
(1) the blue car that Lisa bought (2) the yellow car that is parked outside my officeNouns can be grouped into different classes based on their grammatical properties.
(3) a French car with four-wheel steering
Proper nouns and common nouns
Countable and uncountable nouns
|countable nouns||uncountable nouns|
accept the indefinite article:
do not accept the indefinite article:
typically have a plural form:
|have no plural form:|
money - *moneys, evidence - *evidences, nonsense - *nonsenses
can, and sometimes must, be replaced by the pronoun one:
cannot be replaced by the pronoun one:
|in the plural, combine with plural quantifiers like many, a great number of, etc.:|
many cars, a great number of houses
|only combine with singular quantifiers like much, a great deal of, etc.:|
much evidence, a great deal of money
(1) *many pork; *quite a few pork; or *a large number of pork.What we have to say is instead is, for instance
(2) much pork; a large amount of pork; or lots of pork.Note in relation to this that the relatively informal quantifying expressions a lot of, lots of, and loads of can be used to quantify both countable and uncountable nouns. However, they cannot be used in formal academic writing. In addition to the ways of quantifying uncountables just mentioned, we can also make use use what is called ‘partitive constructions’. Examples of partitive constructions include the following:
(3) a bottle of water; a clap of thunder; a grain of wheat; a slice of ham; a state of mind; a piece of bread; a box of chocolate; an act of violenceA partitive construction is thus a construction where we make use of a countable noun that can be used to denote a certain portion of something uncountable. By doing this, we can can now count the portions, even though their content as such is uncountable. For example, we can use the following noun phrases:
(4) seven bottles of water; six slices of ham; two boxes of chocolateAs we may conclude from the examples in (iii) and (iv) above, some partitive expressions denote portions or quantities that are fairly well defined, while others are rather inexact. For instance, it is not at all obvious how much violence is included in an act of violence. For language users in general, it is important to learn the idiomatic partitive expressions that go together with the various uncountable nouns that you somehow want to quantify. Your language will easily be too dull, informal, and inexact if you constantly make use of general expressions such as a piece of X or a bunch of X. Moreover, only using quantifying expressions, such as some X or a great deal of X, is not an option either, since they are too inexact for most purposes. A good dictionary will help you find the right partitive expressions, but you can also get some help from the following list: a word of advice a round of applausea work of art a pile of ashes a bar of chocolatea box of chocolatea cup of chocolatea packet of cigarettesa web of deceita speck of dusta work of fictiona suit of furniturea blade of grassa body of knowledgea roar of laughtera beam of lighta flash of lightninga stroke of good lucka fit of madness a piece of musica piece/item of news a piece of piean area of researcha body of researcha bag of ricea field of studya lump of sugara cloud of suspiciona web of trusta shot of whiskya gust of wind a log of wooda splinter of wooda piece of work
(1) She had three beers yesterday. (2) This is actually a beer that I don't like.These examples show that one and the same noun can have both a countable and an uncountable use. In fact, this is not at all uncommon. It is also important to understand that this distinction between countable and uncountable nouns is not ad hoc. Instead, it is based on what the world is like, or at least on how language users view the world and the various types of entities in it that can be denoted by nouns. What is meant by this is that whether a noun is categorised as countable or uncountable in a certain language depends on whether or not the speakers of that language think that the entity that the noun is typically used to refer to is possible to count or not. If something is possible to count, it can relatively easily be defined and observed where one of this entity begins and ends and where another one begins and ends, as it were. Given this brief and simplified account of the ontological and cognitive basis of the uncountable/countable distinction, we should be able to form the hypothesis that fairly closely related languages like English and Swedish, which are primarily spoken by people from relatively similar cultures, should not differ very much when it comes to which nouns are countable and which are uncountable.This hypothesis is correct. For the large majority of nouns, there is no difference in countability between the English noun and its Swedish counterpart. This is good news, of course. However, there are also a number of important exceptions that we need to be aware of (in addition to remembering that one and the same noun may be used in more than one way), partly in order to get the agreement between subject and verb right. Estling Vanneståhl (2007:99) provides the following list of nouns which are uncountable in English, but countable or plural in Swedish (please note that the list is not intended to be exhaustive):
|UNCOUNTABLE IN ENGLISH||COUNTABLE OR PLURAL IN SWEDISH|
|gear (informal)||grejer, prylar|
|stuff (informal)||grejer, prylar|
Inherently plural nouns
(4) My new jeans are Italian. (5) We have to buy Peter new pyjamas, since his old ones are worn out. (6) In this experiment, headphones are to be used. (7) The ship's doctor made use of tweezers to remove the foreign object. (8) The minutes were kept by Sheila. (9) The goods have been exported to Germany. (10) All our valuables have been stolen. (11) The police are investigating the case. (12) There were hundreds of police present in Stockholm in connection with the royal wedding.
(13) Do you know how many people are here? (14) The cattle were seen grazing in the field. (15) We do not want vermin in our house, but they are here anyway.
(1) Mina nya jeans var inte dyra.This is often explained by the fact that jeans, trousers ('byxor'), tights, etc. somehow consist of two parts. The Swedish noun pyjamas, however, is different from its English counterpart, in spite of the fact that pyjamas traditionally consist of two parts. In Swedish we get (2), while the corresponding English sentence would be (3):
(2) Jag måste köpa honom en ny pyjamas. (3) I must buy him new pyjamas.In other words, we cannot use *a new pyjamas, since pyjamas is always plural in English. Headphones corresponds to Swedish hörlurar, which is also normally plural, even though (4) is fully grammatical:
(4) Min ena hörlur är trasig.The Swedish word corresponding to the English tweezers is pincett. This noun is not plural in Swedish, even though it can be said to consist of two parts. It seems as if this rule or tendency (i.e. that nouns that denote objects that consist of two parts are treated as plural) is stronger in English than in Swedish. This means, for instance, that (5) does not correspond to (6) or (7), but to (8):
(5) Jag behöver en pincett nu. (6) *I need a tweezers now. (7) *I need a tweezer now. (8) I need (some) tweezers now.Even though minutes is plural in English, the corresponding Swedish word protokoll is a regular noun that can be either singular or plural:
(9) Protokollet var välskrivet. (10) Protokollen hade inte blivit justerade.Goods corresponds to Swedish varor. However, in Swedish it is perfectly normal to use the singular vara (11), while good is not normally used in the singular in English (12):
(11) Jag letar efter en viss vara. (12) *I'm looking for a certain good.However, in the field of economics, the singular good is actually used, as in the authentic (13):
(13) Money is a good that acts as a medium of exchange in transactions. Classically it is said that money acts as a unit of account, a store of value, and a medium of exchange. Most authors find that the first two are nonessential properties that follow from the third. In fact, other goods are often better than money at being intertemporal stores of value, since most monies degrade in value over time through inflation or the overthrow of governments (http://economics.about.com/cs/studentresources/f/money.htm, emphasis by AWELU).Just like valuables is plural in English, värdesaker is plural in Swedish. The singular värdesak is normally not used in Swedish, even though it occurs. So does in fact the singular valuable in English, but this, too, is rather infrequent. Finally in this subsection we have some nouns that do not end in a plural -s, but which are problematic because they are always plural, often in a collective or generic sense. For instance, when we use the police, we normally refer to the whole police force, and when we talk about people, we often talk about people in general. It is important, however, that we understand that there is a clear difference between being uncountable and being inherently plural with a (typically) collective/generic meaning. Grammatically, the most important difference is that while uncountable nouns always take singular subject-verb agreement, plural nouns always take plural agreement. Even though these nouns are inherently plural and collective in English, this need not be the case in other languages, such as Swedish. For instance while (14) is fully grammatical in Swedish, (15) is not possible to use in English. Instead we have to use (16):
(14) Polisen var ung och stilig. (15) *The police was young and handsome. (16) The policeman was young and handsome.
Nouns in -ics
(16) Statistics is becoming increasingly popular among our students. (17) Mathematics is an integral part of our culture. (18) Western economics has tended not to be influenced by theories from other parts of the world.In the examples above, the nouns in -ics denote academic disciplines. However, some of these nouns may also be used to denote the practical application of the discipline, and are then treated as ordinary plurals, e.g. by taking plural determiners and by triggering plural agreement on the verb.
(19) These statistics show that our production of beef has almost doubled. (20) The acoustics of the new concert hall are very lively.
(21) My sheep is black. (22) My sheep are black.Other nouns that belong to this category are aircraft, Chinese, deer, elk, headquarters, horsepower, hovercraft, means, offspring, Portuguese, salmon, series, species, trout, and Vietnamese. When in doubt, please consult a good dictionary.
(23) These data show that our initial assumption was right. (24) The media have become more interested in environmental issues.