What are Mass Nouns?
Mass nouns (or non-count or uncountable nouns) represent nouns that occur in abstract quantities and can’t be counted. These nouns don’t have plural forms and can’t be signified by numbers. At first glance, mass nouns don’t look that different from their counterpart called count nouns. This is where English language learners encounter difficulty. However, once you become familiar with mass nouns as you learn vocabulary and the rules governing their usage in sentences, it will become easier to tell them apart and figure out how they work.
Here are some examples of mass nouns in sentences:
- They need more clothing in the evacuation center.
- I can’t stand the sight of blood.
- Do you need more cream for your coffee?
- From what I hear, they found gold in that area.
- Cleon noticed the air seemed thicker in that part of the cave.
Mass Nouns Rules
The rules for mass nouns aren’t hard to learn and master. They require an understanding of the actual words, whether or not they can essentially be counted. There are ways to quantify mass nouns and once you’ve nailed the basics, you won’t encounter much trouble in using them comfortably in your own sentences. The following is a list of the main rules you should observe when using mass nouns:
|Always Singular||Mass nouns are never plural. This already takes away concerns about following the rules of plural forms. There’s no need to add –s or –es when dealing with mass nouns, and no plural verbs to consider. Always use singular verbs with mass nouns. For example:|
– The bread is fluffy.
– Sand irritates my skin.
– Do you have any money?
|No numbers||Unlike count nouns where numbers are often used (e.g. 12 months or 100 houses), mass nouns don’t employ numbers at all. Instead, we use particular words when we need to quantify them. In this case, we should use plural verbs. For example:|
– May I have two slices of bread?
– I like playing with grains of sand.
– I didn’t bring a lot of money.
|No indefinite articles||“A” and “an” can’t be used with mass nouns. Yes, they describe singularity, but while mass nouns are treated as singular, their meanings are of an uncountable nature. Therefore, “a bread”, “a sand”, and “a money” are grammatically incorrect. You can, however, use the definite article “the.” For example:|
– The bread tastes strange.
– Is the sand white?
– He brought the money here.
|Mass Nouns can be quantified||We can quantify or measure mass nouns by using quantifiers. For example:|
a bit (of)
a great deal of
a large amount of
a large quantity of
a little/little/very little
Some quantifiers that are used with countable nouns can also be used with mass nouns. For example:
a lot of
Examples of Mass Nouns
The following are lists of mass nouns in sentences and classified into several categories:
- Donna needs some advice on how to manage her finances.
- Education in this country has deteriorated in the last decade.
- What counts is good health. Everything is pointless when you’re sick.
- Many countries are struggling to establish peace.
- Kyle looked at my paintings with great admiration, which surprised me.
Nature & Science
- I’m not sure I have to energy to go parasailing.
- Sunshine poured through the windows.
- They heard thunder roaring in the distance.
- We sure are getting a lot of rain this month.
- How do you get rid of rust?
- They’re paving the segment with concrete.
- Are we buying new equipment for the office?
- Petrol is too expensive nowadays.
- We should gather some wood for the bonfire.
- Cyrus plays with clay and molds them into animals.
Food & Drink
- You can never go wrong with butter.
- Seafood is cheap in coastal towns.
- Would you like some honey to go with that?
- The produce aisle doesn’t have a lot of fruits.
- This sauce works incredibly well with pasta.
Mass Nouns Exercises with Answers
Exercise on Mass Nouns
Identify the mass nouns in the following sentences:
1. The whole town was covered in darkness before the storm arrived.
2. There’s absolutely no evidence that he was in the area the night the crime occurred.
3. Anton and Seville were playing on the grass when the school monitor called for them.
4. Thank heavens we were blessed with lovely weather during our pictorial.
5. Thick steam rose from the chimneys, which gave the town a post-apocalyptic quality.
6. We should buy enough rice before our trip. The cabin is far from stores.
7. Do you like fish? I was planning on cooking some tonight.
8. I wish I spoke Korean. Living in Seoul would’ve been so much easier.
9. Sometimes it’s okay to be overwhelmed by sadness.
10. Have you ever encountered so much nonsense?
11. Shawn has no patience to teach children. We never assign preschool classes to him.
12. Filjun’s logic is questionable. Sucks you appointed him as the committee head.
13. Mika can’t figure out what to do with the data even after two hours of analyzing it.
14. Their artists welcome feedback and appreciate all the comments they get.
15. My position in the company allows me a certain amount of freedom.
16. Can you make sure the kids finish their homework before going to bed?
17. Ian wasn’t aware of the gravity of the situation until the next day.
18. Pork needs to be seasoned before grilling. You can marinate it, but salt works fine.
19. Would you care to join us for a glass of beer after hours?
20. Due to the humidity, it feels like several more degrees hotter than it actually is.
Mass Nouns List
|Types of Mass Nouns||Examples|
|Abstract Concepts||literature, information, aptitude, beauty, hatred, knowledge, music, public, research, speed|
|Food & Drink||sugar, cheese, beef, water, flour, juice, wine, soup, powder, bacon|
|Material||coal, lumber, timber, gasoline, cardboard, plastic, steel, silk, grit, paper|
|Nature and Science||dirt, heat, smoke, snow, rain, wildlife, iron, oxygen, mud, lightning|
|Activity||hiking, yoga, contemplation, running, homework, editing, sleep, meditation, leisure, thinking|
|Sports, Emotions, Languages, Sciences, and Measurements||hockey, chess, anger, happiness, Japanese, English, physics, astronomy, height, weight|
|Others||baggage, evidence, gossip, laughter, machinery, cash, news, hardware, silence, jewelry|
Note: some mass nouns can be both countable and uncountable based on context.
Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners
Nouns are usually thought of as the principal part of speech in the English language. After all, they’re the names of everything in existence. But due to its extensive volume, mastering them can be daunting. Luckily, there are a few things that can make language learning less challenging, not only with nouns but all the other grammar concepts in English as well. Consider the following pieces of advice to help you accomplish your language goals.
1. Use Grammar Lists
Fewer grammar tools can function as well as lists, tables, charts, and diagrams in introducing grammar concepts and breaking them down into simplified patterns and rules. They can make grammatical topics easier to grasp. They also contain real-world sentence samples that are valuable to the acquisition of vocabulary and the construction of sentences. The challenge is picking the ones that work for your own study habits. However, you can make your own and customize it according to your own preferences in learning.
2. Use Audio-Visual Resources
Traditional classes aren’t sufficient for studying any language. They should go hand in hand with self-study. Since independent learning is a necessity, the best way to maximize it is to learn with the right materials. One effective and smart way to do so is to ensure that you have ample exposure to English media. Incorporating audio-visual tools in your self-directed instruction is both an educational and entertaining way to reach proficiency. TV shows, films, podcasts, dedicated instructional videos, interactive learning software like LillyPad.ai, and so on can show you how English speakers use the language in different professional, academic, and social situations. You only need to consume these tools with purpose, which means taking content in with the intention of learning.
3. Practical Use
In every field of study, teachers would often say “theory means nothing without practice,” and this is particularly true when studying languages. Instructors are guides; they won’t use English for you. So the best way to improve your level is to use the language as often as you possibly can. It’s not uncommon to meet a student who is proficient in grammar but extremely lacking in verbal communication. This is often the case when a major part of their studies is spent on books. Language should be rooted in actual interaction. Granted that most English students don’t live in places where English is spoken all the time; but in the absence of opportunity, you can make one yourself. You can organize study groups with fellow students and cultivate friendships, both with native and non-native speakers alike.
Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand collective nouns, concrete nouns and common and proper nouns.
Common Errors Made by English Learners
The following table lists rules that English learners often forget or ignore. Study them to avoid making similar mistakes when using mass or countable nouns.
|Don’t use “a” and “an” with mass nouns||Mass nouns express abstract ideas or qualities and other things that we don’t or can’t separate.|
– I can’t believe that we are even considering that option. It’s a nonsense.
– They didn’t expect a bad weather during their holiday.
– We can relax because we don’t have a homework tonight.
– They didn’t expect bad weather during their holiday.
– I can’t believe that we are even considering that option. It’snonsense.
– We can relax because we don’t have homework tonight.
|Use the correct determiners||Determiners such as many, few, etc. are only used with countable nouns. Determiners such as much, less, etc. are only used with mass nouns. For example:|
– We’ve got many reference materials for that subject.
– Few people come in during this hour.
– There were several mishaps during the event.
– I’m afraid I don’t have much patience for long drives.
– The essay could do with less sarcasm.
– Don’t overdo it as it only needs a little sugar.
|Study nouns that can be both count and mass nouns, and learn ones that are only plural||Some nouns are considered mass nouns in general usage and treated as count nouns when used in specific contexts. For example:|
– The light from the windows makes this room dramatic.
– Since the pandemic, business has been bad.
– I need paper in this machine.
– We need lights for the foyer and the front stoop.
– Since the pandemic, restaurant businesses have been struggling.
– How many papers do you need to write by Monday?
Some mass nouns appear only in plural forms. For example:
Learning Strategies and Best Practices with Mass Nouns
Remember the differences between count or countable nouns and mass or uncountable nouns with the following table as a quick reference:
|Count Nouns (Countable Nouns)||Mass Nouns (Uncountable or Non-count nouns)|
|Numbers before the nouns are possible||Can’t have numbers before nouns|
|Can use “a” or “an”||Can’t use indefinite articles|
|Determiners are required||Determiners aren’t always required|
|Use quantifiers that indicate numbers||Use quantifiers that indicate amounts|
Mass Nouns Frequently Asked Questions
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