Using nouns in English

- Determiners are words found in front of a noun that clarifies what the noun references. The type of determiner depends on the type of noun. Is it plural or singular? Is it countable or uncountable? There are a wide variety of determiners in English. Here’s a basic breakdown of the different determiners found in the English language.

Articles Demonstrative Possessive Quantifiers Numbers Ordinals
A, an, the This, that, these, those, etc. My, your, our, his, her, their, etc. Each, every, some, any, much, many, etc. One, two, seven, thirty, etc. First, second, third, etc.

- Here’s a chart to help you learn when to use each type of determiner.

Singular countable nouns Plural countable nouns Uncountable nouns
A, an, the
A cat jumps.
The house is blue.
The marbles are green.
The water is cold.
This, That
This cat jumps.
That house is blue.
These, those
Those marbles are green.
These marbles are white.
This, that
This is good evidence.
That is powerful wind.
Some, any, no
I am no doctor.
Some guy just called.
Some, any, no
Some people are rude.
don’t have any animals.
Some, any, no
I have no time.
She doesn’t have any time.
Possessive pronouns
Your bed is large.
His leg is broken.
Possessive pronouns
Her dishes are still dirty.
My classes are great!
Possessive pronouns
Show me your evidence.
Every plant needs water.
Few, a few, fewer, the fewest
I have a few ideas.
There are fewer people in Denmark than China.
Little, a little, less, least
There is a little water left.
I have little hope.
Many, more, most
I have many ideas.
She has more stamps in her passport than you.
Much, more, most
Chocolate cake has the most sugar.
How much coffee is left?
Numbers, a number of
Eight horses galloped away.
A number of students started to protest.
Another, the other
Another girl called me.
Other, the other
The other lawyers were upset.
Other, the other
The other evidence isn’t convincing.
They have enough assignments.
There is enough rice for everyone!
All, all the
All cars have wheels.
All the birds have flown south.
All, all the
All the beauty in the world amazes me.
Neither, either
Neither team won the tournament.
Each dessert tasted great!
One of the, many of the
She’s one of the girls.
One of the cars is broken.

Numbers become determiners when they are placed before a noun. Cardinal numbers expresses the quantity, while ordinal numbers express a sequence. The noun must be plural for cardinal numbers above one.

Cardinal Ordinal
One cat
Two cats
Three cats
Third place
Second chance
First sight
A thousand seagulls flew over my house last night!
My mother has two cats.
I won second place in the 100-meter race.
There are three buildings on campus.
It was love at first sight.

- This, that, these, those can be used as determiners. As determiners, this and that can be applied to all single countable and uncountable nouns. On the other hand, these and those are used with plural nouns (meaning they are countable). They are placed before the noun.

Uncountable single noun à This water tastes weird.
Countable single noun à That cat is so cute!
Countable plural noun à Those clothes are so expensive!

- When used as pronouns, "this," "that," "these," and "those" are used to refer to things or ideas. "This" and "these" are used when the thing is in close proximity to us, while "that" and "those" are used for objects further away.

This is my house.
These are my dogs.
Those students won’t last long.
That cat scared me yesterday.

- Reflexive pronouns are used when we want to refer back to the subject of the sentence. The reflexive pronoun becomes the direct object in the sentence. This means the subject and the direct object represent the same thing. Singular reflexive pronouns end in -self and plural reflexive pronouns end in -selves.

Myself Yourself Himself Herself
Itself Ourselves Themselves Yourselves

- As an example let’s look at this sentence:

Bill saw Katy (or her).

Bill sees someone else in this sentence (indicated by the pronoun her). Now here’s the same sentence in reflexive form:

Bill saw himself.

- Here are some more examples:

I saw myself in the mirror.
You all should do the work yourselves.
The building collapsed in on itself.

- The meaning of some verb changes when paired with reflexive pronouns:

She found herself struggling to breathe. (She was surprised she was struggling to breathe.)
I saw myself as a politician when I was younger. (I felt that I was a politician when I was younger.)

- Countable nouns are nouns that we count with numbers, for example: I have three cats. These nouns have a singular and a plural form. The singular form can use either "one" or "a"/"an" as a determiner. To form a question about countable nouns we ask "how many?"

one (a) house two houses
one (a) chair two chairs
one (a) kid two kids
one (an) idea two ideas
Many We have many bottles of water.
Much There is much love in the world.
Few There are a few dogs in the park.
Little I see little evidence of criminal intent.
Amount of A large amount of research is ready to be published
Number of A number of students protested today.

- Uncountable nouns cannot be counted with numbers. They include abstract ideas and objects that are difficult to count (gases, liquids, small and numerous objects). In most cases, they do not have a plural form.

water rice research salt
sugar peace love evidence
beauty anger coffee oil

To ask about the quantity of uncountable nouns, we must use "How much?"

How much research is there on brain cancer?
I want some coffee.
There is a lot of beauty in the world.
The amount of evidence available is unbelievable.

*Each language differs on what nouns are considered countable and uncountable. For example, "hair" is uncountable in English, unless referring to individual hairs.

Q: How much hair does your baby have?
A: She doesn’t have very much hair yet.
I’ve noticed Tom has a few gray hairs these days.

- Add an -s or -es only to the most significant word (also called the base word) of a compound noun.

Pear tree à Pear trees
Mother-in-law à mothers-in-law
Changing room à changing rooms

- Add an -s or -es at the end if there doesn’t appear to be a base word or it’s one word.

Toothbrush à toothbrushes
Forget-me-not à forget-me-nots
Paperclip à paperclips

- People may easily get tripped up when trying to decide if a large number is plural or not. Is it million or millions? Let’s take a look at when large numbers should be singular and when they should be plural.

- For specific numbers, you do not add an -s to hundred, thousand, or million.

There are 320 million Americans.
This stadium can seat five thousand people.

- You will need to add an -s if the number is unspecified, and instead just expresses an approximate number. Hundreds, thousand, and millions are often followed by countable nouns.

There are hundreds of people here!
The sky is so clear, we’ll be able to see millions of starts tonight.
There are hundreds of bears in Yosemite National Park.

- In general, there is no gender distinction between masculine or feminine nouns in English. However, there are a few exceptions to that rule.

If you would like to emphasize the gender, you may add the word male or female before the noun.

I have two male cousins.
She has a female friend.

- Many animals (mainly domesticated animals) have a masculine and feminine noun. Frequently, however, English speakers just use the general term for the animal.

Animal Feminine Masculine
Lion Lioness Lion
Pig Sow Boar
Horse Mare Stallion
Tiger Tigress Tiger
Cattle Cow Bull

- There are a few exceptions beyond domesticated animals; however, there are so few gendered words it’s best just to memorize them.

Masculine Feminine
Actor, boy, groom, brother, count, czar, dad, duke, emperor, god, heir, hero, host, king, husband, master, prince, uncle, wizard, waiter. Actress, girl, bride, sister, countess, czarina, mom, duchess, empress, goddess, heiress, heroine, hostess, queen, wife, mistress, princess, aunt, witch, waitress.

- Collective nouns are single words that represent more than one person, place, idea, animal, or thing.

Common collective nouns
Class Herd Jury Team Army
Council Audience Crowd Swarm Mob
Crew Staff Choir Panel Stack

- It can be difficult to decide whether a collective noun is singular or plural. In Britain, you can decide if you would rather refer to the collective noun in the singular or plural. However, the United States has a much stronger preference for presenting collective nouns as singular. Perhaps the trickiest part about collective nouns is verifying that your writing remains consistent. Once you’ve decided, every reference to the collective noun must reflect your initial choice.

The council was quiet; they were deep in thought.
Instead à The council was quiet; it was deep in thought.

Prepositions describe the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence. A noun always follows a preposition.

Common collective nouns
Subject + verb Preposition Noun
I am On The bed.
She sat By The ocean.
Rene is looking For Me.