A Quick Guide to Nouns (Part 2)

In the previous part, we spoke of three different types of noun – countable, uncountable, and collective.

Here are some more varieties that pop up in our everyday conversations.

Common and proper nouns

We use a common noun to refer to people, things, or places in a general sense. For instance, the word woman can mean any adult female, while the word restaurant can be used to talk about any place where you can buy and eat a meal.

By comparison, a proper noun refers to a specific person, thing, or place. It can be the name of an individual, a place, an organisation, etc. For instance, Emma Watson refers to a particular adult female, whereas Hard Rock Café is the name of a specific chain of theme restaurants.

As a general rule, proper nouns always begin with capital letters in written English. If a proper noun has more than one part (e.g. Martin Luther King, NOT Martin luther king), then the first letter in each gets capitalised.

Here’s a quick comparison to help you understand the difference between the two types:

Common noun Proper noun
woman Emma Watson
man Martin Luther King
city London
country Germany
restaurant Hard Rock Cafe
motorbike Suzuki Hayabusa

Concrete and abstract nouns

As the name suggests, a concrete noun refers to people or things that exist physically. In other words, they can be experienced using our senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Examples of such nouns include light, aroma, music, coffee, and cotton.

Abstract nouns, on the contrary, have no physical existence. They refer to ideas, qualities, and conditions, none of which can be experienced via senses. Words such as honesty, joy, friendship, sorrow, lies, and time are all abstract in nature.

Compound noun

A compound noun is formed by joining two or more words to make a single noun. It can be a single word, a hyphenated word, or two separate words. Here are some examples: sunrise, toothpaste, passer-by, mother-in-law, washing machine, fish hook.

Remember, a noun can fall into more than one category. Sydney, for example, is both a concrete noun and a proper noun. Being aware of various types of noun can help you use language more confidently and accurately.

A Quick Guide to Nouns (Part 1)

What is common to the words Philip, Melbourne, elephant, table, and love?

They are all nouns, words which are the central building blocks of English. It’s next to impossible to avoid nouns when using English, because we need them to refer to the subject of a sentence. A noun can refer to a person, a place, an animal, a thing, or an idea. Here are some quick explanations to help you understand some commonly used types of nouns.

Countable and uncountable nouns

In English, certain nouns are treated as separate items and so can be counted. For instance, we can count words such as camera (one camera, two cameras, three cameras, etc.), pen, book, and girl. We call such words countable nouns. They can appear in two forms – singular or plural. When a countable noun is in singular form, the indefinite article (a/an) is usually used before it.

Could I please have a pen? (Not Could I please have pen?)

Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, cannot be treated as separate objects or items, as they are seen as a whole. Some examples of uncountable nouns are milk, juice, homework, luggage, advice, snow, feedback, and information. Naturally, such words are not used in plural form (milks, juices, homeworks, feedbacks). Also, the indefinite article (a/an) does not appear before uncountable nouns.

Could I please get some advice? (Not Could I please get an advice?)

Collective nouns

A collective noun is a word that we use to talk about a collection of people, animals, things, etc. as a single group. The words audience, family, team, police, orchestra, and council are all examples of collective nouns. One problem that learners face is to decide what verb to add after a collective noun – singular or plural. In British English, most collective nouns can be followed by the singular or plural verb, depending on the context. If in doubt, it’s best to consult a dictionary.

The next time you come across a new noun, try to understand what type it is. All good dictionaries list such information.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 3)

 

So far in this series, we’ve looked at five different adverbial groups – those relating to frequency, place, time, degree, and probability. Here are two more varieties that regularly appear in our everyday conversations.

 

6. Adverbs of manner

Manner adverbs tell us how something happens or the way someone does something. As seen in the example sentences below, adverbs of manner are commonly formed by adding –ly to adjectives (carefully, beautifully, calmly). Based on phonological structure, some words take on a slightly different spelling, as in the case of hungrily.

 

Shawn unboxed the present carefully.

Annie’s brother dances beautifully.

He calmly said that he was quitting.

The kids ate the ice cream hungrily

 

Mind you, there also exist manner adverbs that have the same form as adjectives, so don’t always go by appearance. For instance, the words hard, late, and fast have the same adjectival and adverbial form. In such cases, it’s the context which tells us which form the word is in. Here’s a comparison to help you understand better:

 

He drives a fast car.

(Here ‘fast’ describes the car’s ability to move quickly, so it is acting as an adjective)

 

He drives his car fast.

(Here ‘fast’ describes the manner in which someone drives, so it is acting as an adverb)

 

 

7. Sentence adverbs

Unlike other adverbial types, a sentence adverb refers to an entire sentence and not just a part of it. Also, it does not focus on an action in particular. Instead, it shows us the opinion of the speaker or writer. As they act as a comment, such adverbs are typically placed at the beginning and separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Another thing that makes them easy to spot is that they almost always end in –ly.

 

Interestingly, he decided to stay away from the award ceremony.  

Unfortunately, the match had to be abandoned due to heavy rains.  

Luckily, we got a lift to the airport and reached there just in time.  

Clearly, he seems to have lost his magical touch.

 

Sentence adverbs can be used to convey various attitudes and feelings to situations, such as curiosity (interestingly), disappointment (unfortunately), relief (luckily), or clarity (clearly).

 

So, the next time you come across an adverb, think about what type it is and what it is trying to tell you.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 2)

 

In a previous blog post, we spoke of two specific adverbial groups – adverbs of frequency, which tell us how often something happens, and adverbs of place, which tell us where something happens. Here are three more varieties:

 

3. Adverbs of time

Time adverbs tell us when or for how long an action happens. In the first two examples below, the adverbs tell us when the action takes place, while adverbs in the last couple of sentences refer to the length of action.

 

Dan called me last night.

I’m afraid we’ll have to leave now.

We’ve been here since morning.

I think Tessa and Peter dated for a year.

 

Time adverbs are among the commonest words in English, so they appear quite frequently in our sentences. When talking about the length of an action, we often use the words for and since followed by a time expression. The word for is usually followed by a period of time (e.g. 12 hours, weeks, a year), whereas since is followed by a point in time (e.g. morning, Christmas, 1983).

 

4. Adverbs of degree

An adverb of degree refers to intensity, indicating the degree or extent of something. In the examples below, the adverbs enough, a bit, really, and too tell us just how hot the coffee is.

 

The coffee is hot enough.

The coffee is a bit hot.

The coffee is really hot.

The coffee is too hot.

 

Degree adverbs can modify adjectives (like in the examples above), verbs, or other adverbs. So, it is common to place them before the word they modify in a sentence.

 

5. Adverbs of probability

Adverbs of probability indicate how certain the speaker is about something. In the sentences below, the adverbs perhaps and possibly show less certainty, while definitely and certainly indicate high probability.

 

Perhaps Tom will be there at the party.

Tom will possibly be there at the party.

Tom will definitely be there at the party.

Tom will certainly be there at the party.

 

One challenge when learning new adverbs is knowing where to place them in a sentence. So, remember to read up on placement rules when learning new adverb categories. We’ll be back soon with some more types.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 1)

 

Many English speakers believe that an adverb is any word ending in –ly, but holding such a belief may do you more harm than good.

 

In reality, not every word that ends in –ly is an adverb, so this approach can be misleading at best. For example, the word rally is a noun as well as verb, while silly, friendly, and pally are adjectives. More importantly, there is no regular structure to adverbs, which means that they come in all shapes and sizes. The words only, well, already, too, and sometimes are all adverbs, although they aren’t similar in appearance.

Adverbs, put simply, are words that modify the meaning of other words (e.g. verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs) around them. At times they can also modify the meaning of entire sentences. Here are some common types of adverbs:

 

1. Adverbs of frequency

As the name suggests, such adverbs show just how frequently something happens. It is common to use an adverb of frequency with the present simple tense to talk about how often we do something.

 

I always drink green tea in the morning.

John often goes to the cinema with friends.

Sally hardly ever listens to rock and roll.

I never buy clothes online.

 

Sometimes we talk about repeated action by using the word ‘every’ followed by a time expression, or by pluralising a day of the week.

 

Jan plays football with friends every Sunday.

I wash my car every week.

Mathew goes to Spain every month.

They have a barbeque in the garden on Sundays.

 

2. Adverbs of place

An adverb of place generally provides information on location or movement. The first two sentences below talk about the direction (ran downstairs, drove past old building) where someone is moving, whereas the next two talk about distances (miles away, nearby).

 

The kids ran downstairs when they heard the doorbell.

We drove past many old buildings.

Mona’s house is a couple of miles away

There is a decent café nearby.

 

We’ll be back with more on adverbs in later posts.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 3)

 

In part 2 of this series, we spoke of some situations when the definite article the is generally used.

 

Comparatively speaking, there are more rules for using the definite article than the indefinite variety, a or an. Another thing to remember is that the can appear before singular as well as plural nouns.

 

Here are some more rules to help you.

When to use the

6. Referring to an entire group of people

Examples:

The aged are generally reluctant to use any form of technology.  

[aged = a collective reference to people who are very old]

 

The Swiss are known for their ability to manufacture world-class watches.

[Swiss = a collective reference to citizens of Switzerland]  

 

7. Before the names of countries which have a common noun such as ‘republic’, ‘united’, ‘states’, or which sound plural

Examples:

Dubai is arguably the most popular city in the United Arab Emirates.

My cousin works in the Philippines.

 

8. Before the names of newspapers

Examples:

I met a journalist who works for the Independent at yesterday’s party.

The Sun is one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK.

 

9. Before the names of most hotels and restaurants

Examples:

I’ve booked us a table at the Canopy, owned by the famous chef Marcus.

Let’s meet at the Swan, the pub near Graeme’s house.

 

Remember, this rule does not apply if the hotel or restaurant is named after a person.

 

10. Before the names of families

Examples:

We’re having dinner with the Watsons tonight.

The Kanes are an amazingly talented bunch.

 

11. Before the names of rivers, seas, mountain groups, island groups, and deserts

Examples:

Debbie’s new apartment overlooks the Thames.

My uncle and aunt are holidaying in the West Indies.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world.

 

12. Before the names of most museums, art galleries, monuments, and famous buildings

Examples:

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is a spectacular structure.

Have you ever been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra?

 

And here’s something interesting to end with: the definite article is pronounced differently depending on what word follows it. If it appears before a word beginning with a consonant sound, we pronounce it like ‘thuh’; if it is before a word beginning with a vowel sound, we pronounce it like ‘thee’.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 2)

 

 

 

In a previous post, we looked at the indefinite article, a or an, and when to use it. In this one, we’ll talk about the use of the definite article the.

 

When to use the

Unlike the indefinite variety, the definite article is used to talk about a noun that is specific. Its presence in a sentence suggests that the speaker and listener, or the writer and reader, both clearly understand which noun is being referred to.

 

Here are some situations when the indefinite article the is commonly used.

  1. Referring to something that has already been mentioned

Examples:

I had some pizza and a glass of lemonade. The pizza was so tasty!  

Did you know that a couple met with an accident right here yesterday? The woman is still in a coma.  

 

  1. Referring to something which the listener is already familiar with

Examples:

I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like something?

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific store, where they usually buy things]

 

Where is the cookery book? I can’t find it in the kitchen.

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific book which they usually keep in the kitchen]

 

  1. Before superlative forms (e.g. tallest, shortest, fastest, most beautiful), as there is generally just one in a group which can be the tallest, fastest, most beautiful, etc.

Examples:

My dad’s office is located in the tallest building in our city.

She is the most beautiful girl in my town.

 

  1. Assuming there is only one thing of a kind somewhere

Examples:

Excuse me, can you please direct me to the cafeteria?

[The speaker assumes that there is only one cafeteria in the area]

 

Let’s go to that new mall on Orchard Street. I’ll meet you in the car park at around 11.

[The speaker assumes that the mall has just one car park]

 

  1. Referring to unique people or things

Examples:

The principal has called for an emergency meeting.

[There is usually just one principal in a college/university]

 

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

[There is only one star by the name sun in the solar system]

 

The definite article is the most frequently used word in English, so we’ll be back soon with more on its use.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 1)


When learning a new language, the size of words doesn’t always matter. Sometimes using really small words accurately can be a real nightmare. Many English learners, for instance, find the use of articles confusing.

Articles – a, an, and the – are little words that go before nouns (i.e. person, place, thing, or idea). They help us identify if the noun we are referring to is definite or indefinite. A noun is definite when the speaker and the listener both know what is being spoken about. If not, it becomes an indefinite one.

 

Example 1: “Shall we watch a film tonight? How about an action flick?”

 

Example 2: “After a week, I watched the film again with my family at the local cinema.”

 

By choosing to use the indefinite article, a or an, we are referring to films in general: any film, or any action film. On the other hand, use of the definite article the indicates that we are referring to a specific film: the one the speaker saw a week ago.

As there are tons of rules stating when to use which type of article, and when to omit articles, learners commonly struggle with this area of language use. Here are some basic rules to help you better understand articles.

 

When to use a or an

Before getting to rules, it’s important to know the difference between the two indefinite articles, a and an. We use a before a word that begins with a consonant sound (e.g. nurse), while we use an before a word that begins with a vowel sound (e.g. engineer).

 

Now here are some situations when we generally use the indefinite article.

  1. Classifying people based on what job they do

Examples:

Katie’s sister is a nurse.

My daughter is studying to be an engineer.

 

  1. Referring to a singular countable noun which is not specific

Examples:

Can I have a pen, please?

[Any pen should do]

 

We should get ourselves a car.

[Any car, not one in particular]

 

Remember, we don’t use the indefinite article before plural (e.g. a nurses) or uncountable (e.g. an information) nouns. More about articles in later posts, so do watch this space.

 

British vs American English (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Secabtien Wiertz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how Britons and Americans tend to spell and pronounce a lot of words differently. Here are some other ways in which UK and US English differ.

3. Vocabulary

This is arguably the most striking difference between the versions of English spoken on either side of the pond. Let’s do a quick comparison: in British English ‘you take the lift from a friend’s flat to the ground floor of the building’, while in American English ‘you take the elevator from a friend’s apartment to the first floor of the building’.

 

There are hundreds of such everyday things that are described using different terms. That said, Britons and Americans are generally able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context. On rare occasions, though, it could cause confusion. For example, the phrase ‘first floor’ can be found in both versions, but it carries a different meaning in each.

 

Here are some common examples of different words describing the same things:

 

British English American English
biscuit cookie
flat apartment
petrol gas
trousers pants
chips French fries
crisps potato chips
aubergine eggplant
mobile phone cell phone
torch flashlight
football soccer
the cinema the movies

 

4. Grammar

Like spelling, the way speakers of UK and US English use grammar can also be slightly different at times. For starters, Britons use question tags (a phrase added to the end of a sentence to turn it into a question; e.g. You don’t eat meat, do you?) a lot more than speakers of American English.

 

Here are some more grammatical differences:

 

British English American English
Preposition Are you in my team or his?

 

I’ll see you at the weekend.

Are you on my team or his?

 

I’ll see you on the weekend.

Tense Use of the present perfect to describe something that has happened recently

 

I’ve just had dinner.

Use of the past simple to describe something that has happened recently

 

I just had dinner.

Verb forms Some verbs are considered irregular

 

dream, dreamt, dreamt

learn, learnt, learnt

The same verbs are made regular

 

dream, dreamed, dreamed

learn, learned, learned

Collective nouns Collective nouns can be singular or plural

 

My team is / are in the lead.

Collective nouns are always singular

 

My team is in the lead.

 

 

All in all, these two versions of English have a lot more similarities than differences, so if you can understand one, the chances are that you’ll be able to understand the other too.

 

GLOSSARY

 

the pond
Form : noun
Meaning : an informal term for the Atlantic Ocean, which lies in between Britain and America
Example : This rock band is huge in Britain but relatively unknown on the other side of the pond. 

 

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr (cc 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how it is good practice to use a pointer while speed reading, and how to retain information. Here are a couple more tips you should try…

 

Practise regularly

As clichéd as it sounds, there is no doubt that practice makes perfect. Speed reading may appear to be challenging at first, but regular practice should help you master this skill. And once you get to that point, you’ll realise that it is quite possible to glace through entire sections of a document or book in a matter of minutes and get the gist of it.

Think about how much time speed reading can save you, and you’ll need no further motivation to put in the hard yards.

 

Don’t read every single word

When we first start learning to read as children, we are often told how it is important to read every single word to ensure complete understanding. Guess what? You can’t do this when you speed-read. Your focus should be on gaining a general understanding of the content, so trying to do anything more can slow you down.

So, which words should you focus on? Well, if not reading a word won’t affect your comprehension, feel confident to skip it. Allow your eyes to fix on the important words. Over time, your brain will pick these out and gloss over the less important ones.

Before you know it you’ll be reading super fast!

 

We’ll be back with some more advice in the next part.

 

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