What Has Counting Got to Do with Grammar?

Yes, what indeed?

Grammar is the system and structure of a language, and counting, as we know it, is for mathematics.

But what if we were referring to countable and uncountable nouns?

Nouns are naming words. They give a label to things, and the two main categories of nouns are:

(1) Proper Nouns

These are actual names given to brands, people, countries, pets, etc.

Examples

  • Peter
  • Singapore
  • Apple

(2) Common Nouns

These are general names given to things, places, people, etc.

Examples

  • man
  • country
  • mobile phone

Under the category of common nouns, there are two classifications: countable nouns and uncountable nouns.

The way to determine a countable or uncountable noun is this:

  • Can you add an “s” or “es” to the word to show plurality?
  • Can you use a different form of the word to show plurality?

If you can do one of these, it is a countable noun. If you cannot, it is an uncountable one.

Examples

Countable Noun Uncountable Noun
office – offices water – water
manager – managers staff – staff
project – projects equipment – equipment
woman – women furniture – furniture

So, back to our question – what has grammar got to do with counting? Turns out that it may have very little to do with counting.

Whether a noun is countable or uncountable does not rely on the physical ability to count something. You have to abide by the rule of grammar.

This sign was seen at a construction site:

Sign - Equipments

Question: Where is the mistake?

Answer: The word “equipments” is wrongly used here. (It should be “equipment”.) There is no plural form for the word equipment, as it is an uncountable noun.

So what do you do if you are unsure about this grammar point? You check the dictionary.

For example, a quick check with the Longman online dictionary shows this:

Slide1

(Caution: Many words come with various usage definitions. Be sure to read carefully for the definition that you need. Some words can be used in either the countable or uncountable form, depending on your context.)

Getting your nouns right can save you from writing things like “staffs’, “furnitures”, “equipments”, “luggages”, etc. These are uncountable nouns and should not take a plural form.

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