On a chilly winter evening in New Delhi, I saw this sign blazing in the dark. ‘Fruit’ is an uncountable noun. And if the owner wished to be grammatically correct, the sign should have read “Shakti Fruit.’
But what are uncountable nouns? Uncountable nouns are nouns that cannot be counted. They can be either abstract nouns (love, peace) or concrete nouns (sugar, furniture).
Here are the main points you need to keep in mind:
a. With an uncountable noun, we do not use an ‘s’. And so we cannot have ‘fruits’.
b. Also, we cannot use indefinite articles (a,an) with uncountable nouns. We should not say: a fruit.
Let’s look at some common errors made with uncountable nouns:
- “Can I ask for an advice?”
This is incorrect. Advice is uncountable. You can say: “Can I ask for some advice?”
2. The ten equipments are in the storeroom.
Equipment is uncountable. Instead, we can say: The ten pieces of equipment are in the storeroom.
3. She knows a lot about Japanese business etiquettes.
You guessed it… Etiquette is an uncountable noun. The sentence should read: She knows a lot about Japanese business etiquette.
And now, I’m sure that you can identify the grammatical error in this photo:
This message is from my local gym. What caught my eye was the unnecessary apostrophe in ‘Saturdays’.
Apostrophes are terrible easy to use. And yet, there are often misused. As in most things in life, you just have to be clear as to how to use them. Here are three common uses:
- To show possession
girl’s (singular) girls’ (plural)
2. After time expressions
One week’s time
Two weeks’ time (note that the apostrophe in this case comes after the ‘s’)
3. For informal speech
do not becomes don’t
I am becomes I’m
you are becomes you’re
Pay attention when you see: it’s
It’s can be ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. It depends on the context. Look at these two examples:
a. It’s raining! (It is)
b. It’s been nice speaking with you. (It has)
If you wish to write anything in its plural form, such as protein shakes, push-ups, and Saturdays, there is no need to add an apostrophe. Don’t do it.
And yes, there are exceptions. We use apostrophes when we talk of minding your P’s and Q’s. But, I think you knew that already…
The photo is of a bridge near my home. If you can peer through the Delhi smog, you’ll spot some writing: Qasim love Shasli.
I wish Qasim well. But, I would like to point out a grammatical error. It should read: Qasim loves Shasli.
This type of grammatical error happens when the subject and verb do not agree. The absence of subject-verb agreement is a very common error.
Let’s look at the verb: to love. Here are its different forms in the present tense:
He loves / She loves
Qasim loves / Shasli loves
Other verbs receive the same treatment. I like becomes Rahul likes. And I meet becomes she meets.
The next time you hear someone speak, keep your ears peeled for subject-verb agreement. You may be surprised to hear how many times the subject and verb just don’t agree!
This is a little known article. The reason for that, is that it is invisible!
When we use no article in front of a noun, it is called the zero article. To understand the zero article, you need to know about two concepts:
- Abstract noun – this is a noun that you cannot know through your five senses. (e.g. peace, hate, love)
- Plural count noun – these are nouns that cannot be counted. (e.g. cars, cellphones, paperclips)
We use the zero article before abstract nouns and plural count nouns. For example:
- History is a fascinating subject. (History is an abstract noun.)
- She collects photos of cats. (Cats is a plural count noun.)
We are talking about history and cats in general.
The history is a fascinating subject.
She collects photos of the cats.
Now, here is the catch. There are times when we use the definite article with these nouns. We use the definite article when talking about specific abstract or plural count nouns. For example:
- Mary has specialized in the history of medieval India.
- She takes care of the cats in her building.
In the above sentences, we are talking about a specific history (medieval India’s) and specific cats (the ones in her building).
We cannot write:
He has specialized in history of medieval India.
She takes care of cats in her building.
Hope you are now more aware of this lesser-known article. Look out for them when you read and write.
Many Indian speakers find it difficult to use the correct article in a phrase. This is because in languages such as Hindi, there are no articles!
This post will look at the use of articles: a, an, the. In the next post, we will look at the zero article (my favourite).
We use the definite article for shared knowledge between two speakers. For example: The cab has come. And we use the indefinite articles when there is no shared knowledge. For example: A cab has come. (We are not sure who has ordered the cab.)
Often, Indian speakers tend to drop or add the definite article (the) in certain phrases. Here are a few examples:
- across globe – should be: across the globe
- think out of box – should be: think out of the box
- out of the town – should be: out of town
- since beginning – should be: since the beginning
- in next few years – should be: in the next few years
I wish I could give you a rule to follow here, but I cannot think of one. Be aware of the use the definite article and look critically at the common phrases you use. Check to make sure that they are correct. Over time, it will come naturally to you.
All the best!