Thursday, October 14, 2010

When do I Use "A" and "The"? Understanding Count vs. Non-Count Nouns

Hello Fellow Esteemed ESL Teachers!

Today we are talking about the elusive "a" and "the". When do you use them? When do you leave them out? What the heck is a count and a noncount noun anyway?

Ah, your questions are about to be answered...finally!

Count vs. Noncount Nouns

Count nouns are countable, which means that you can use numbers with them.
EXAMPLE: 3 cats, 5 tables, 10 coins

Noncount nouns cannot be counted
air (not 1 air), information (not 3 informations), furniture (not 5 furnitures)

Noncount nouns can be counted if you use measure words
2 tanks of air, 3 books of information, 5 pieces of furniture

When to use "A"

Use a when you have a single count noun.
EXAMPLE: A dog is a great pet.

Do not use "A" with non-count nouns
EXAMPLE: Money is important (not "a" money)

When to put an "s" after nouns?

Plural Count Nouns need "s"
EXAMPLE: There are 3 dogs.

Non-Count nouns do not need an "s" and are grammatically singular
EXAMPLE: There is money. (use "is" instead of "are")

Put an "s" after count nouns when making generalizations
EXAMPLE: Dogs are great pets.

Some and A Lot

Count and Non-count nouns both use "some"
EXAMPLE: Some pens (count  nouns need "s")....some furniture....some mail

Count and Non-count nouns both use "some"

EXAMPLE: A lot of birds (count has "s") are flying to see a lot of people (non-count).

Many and A Few

Many and A Few are used with Count Nouns
EXAMPLE: I have many books.
EXAMPLE 2: I have a few pencils.

Much and A Little
Much and A Little are used with Non-Count Nouns

EXAMPLE: I don't have much coffee.
EXAMPLE 2: I have a little money.

When to use "the"
Use "the" when you and the audience knows what you are talking about, you both know the context

EXAMPLE: The party is going to be on Tuesday (The speaker and listener already know there is going to be a party and what exact party it is)


I took the info in this post from Basic English Grammar, Third Edition (Full Student Book with Audio CD and Answer Key) Like it? Check it out!

Thank you so much for your visit today! Please comment and share!

Your friendly fellow ESL teacher,


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