Monday, August 30, 2010

An ESL Guide, Part 5: Uncountable Nouns

In an earlier post on uncountable nouns, I mentioned 20 nouns which, in the context I used them, should be used singularly. But here’s the problem: Some of them can be used as plurals.

Most of the examples are true to the rule; words like advice, equipment, information, knowledge, and traffic are singular although they suggest plurals. On the other hand, let’s take a look at five others that can be singular depending on the context in which they are used:
  1. The air is better today. But if I think you’re trying too hard to impress me, I may say, “You’re putting on airs.”
  2. Her art never fails to impress us. But I am likely to say that an actor, a dancer, a musician, a playwright, and a sculptor are in the arts.
  3. The coffee from Brazil and Colombia is famous. But when I order two cups of coffee for my friend and myself, I may say to the waiter, “Two coffees, please.”
  4. The water in my town and yours tastes great. But I may warn you about entering a hostile nation’s territorial waters.
  5. Their work is exceptional. But I may say that I’m reading the collected works of a poet.

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