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Noun Correction

Nouns are an integral part of any sentence and, to most tertiary students, are seemingly easy to use and understand. However, the fact is that mistakes in the use of nouns are still commonly found in students’ writing.


Here are two examples:

  • Dr. Wong’s knowledge of English and Putonghua are very rich and extensive.
    (Knowledge is the subject of the sentence, not English and Putonghua. Knowledge is uncountable, so the verb should be is, not are. This is because the main verb should agree with the subject noun, not the immediately preceding nouns).
  • Many advices can be sought from the careers and counselling unit in the main building.
    (Advice is uncountable, so the sentence should start with Advice can be sought...)

Nouns denoting concepts and opinions may not be ‘counted’ in English, unlike in many other languages (including Chinese). The following material will help you understand how nouns can be used correctly.



1. Countable nouns

Countable nouns are nouns that have both singular and plural forms. The following nouns, which are often used in academic writing, are countable:

idea chapter method effect issue task
machine thought problem report scheme article

e.g. I have read two recent articles investigating the issue of social security and its effects on government expenditure.

2. Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns have no plural form and therefore take a singular verb. The following nouns are usually uncountable:

information knowledge machinery advice research nature
literature environment behaviour labour news technology
progress equipment furniture traffic baggage money

e.g. A great deal of research on the nature of AIDS has been conducted and it is encouraging to know that we have made some good progress.

3. Special cases

The following nouns are conceived as plural rather than singular and so have only the plural form:

headquarters  goods clothes premises means police people

e.g. The police are looking for larger premises to build the new headquarters.

Note: The word 'means' looks like a plural. This may be misleading, because 'means' is used both as a singular and a plural noun.
e.g. "Language is more than a means of communication." (a means = one means = singular)
e.g. "There are at least four means of transport suitable for you".
The word means is also found in the common phrase a means to an end, which means a special method you use to achieve your goal. For example, 'Some people claim that torturing terrorist prisoners for information is an acceptable means to an end, if the end is saving lives.'

When you use a collective noun such as government and data you can choose either a singular verb or a plural verb depending on whether you want to emphasise the noun as a single unit or as a number of individuals or items.

  • The government has received a great deal of criticism regarding its handling of the student rally.
  • The government are prepared to invest more on promoting tourism as a way to revive the economy.
  • Data for the research has been gathered from a questionnaire survey and personal interviews.
  • Data from our study provide a firm basis to evaluate the effectiveness of the current policy.

These are some of the most common collective nouns:

public   committee   media   staff   team   audience   group

You should also be aware that some nouns can be both countable and uncountable, depending on the intended meaning. If you want to refer to the thing in general, it is uncountable; if you want to refer to a particular instance of it, it becomes countable.

  • The newly employed marketing manager has much experience in both the public and private sectors.
  • I had an unpleasant experience last term when I worked with two irresponsible classmates on a group project.

Other words in this category include:

conflict   service   discussion   language   business   agreement

Exercise:
There are 10 statements. Some of them are correct, but others are not. Edit the incorrect ones. After you finish them, click the 'Check All Answers' button to see the answers and feedback.

1. 

2. 

3. 

4. 

5. 

6. 

7. 

8. 

9. 

10. 


 
 



 
 
 


Answer Key

Here are the answers:

1. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'We need to do more research to find out the causes of the problem.' because 'research' is an uncountable noun. See explanation above.

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2. Your answer is:

The correct answers are 'The Hong Kong Polytechnic University is planning to offer more training programmes next year.' or 'The Hong Kong Polytechnic University are planning to offer more training programmes next year.' because the HKPU can be seen as both a single organisation, and as a number of people. 
See explanation above.

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3. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'The forthcoming book by Professor Coleman contains many useful ideas for law students and practising lawyers alike.' because there are no errors in this sentence.

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4. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'We can only resolve the conflict by means of negotiating with patience and sincerity.' because by means of is a special phrase which has the meaning of using, not can be defined asSee explanation above.

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5. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'My flatmate, who is an overseas student from Malaysia, speaks four languages.' as languages is plural because four is a plural number.

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6. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'If you need help, please do not hesitate to contact me or my colleagues.' because help is uncountable. Helps can have an 's' on the end if it is a verb; e.g. 'He helps me.'

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7. Your answer is:

The correct answers are 'The government has commissioned a study to gather people’s views on the new housing policy.' or 'The government have commissioned a study to gather people’s views on the new housing policy.' because the government can be seen as a single organisation or as a number of people. See explanation above.

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8. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'The public are increasingly concerned about the behaviour of some university students.' because behaviour is uncountable. See explanation above.

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9. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'The news of the proposed restructuring has travelled quickly within the company in the past week.' because news is uncountable, so the verb has/have should agree with news as if it is a singular noun. See explanation above.

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10. Your answer is:

The correct answer is 'The department has purchased three new machines for the main laboratory.' because machinery is uncountable, but machines is countable. See explanation above.

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Last updated on: Monday, March 26, 2012