33 Articles (a/an/the) and Count/NonCount Nouns

Learning Objectives

When you’ve completed this chapter, you’ll be able to

  • define and use count and noncount nouns
  • recognize and use definite and indefinite articles

Articles (a, an, the) are often placed before nouns in English. They can be tricky to understand, especially for English as a Second Language learners, because there are a lot of rules, a lot of exceptions to those rules, and this grammar doesn’t exist in all languages. Understanding count and noncount nouns will help you understand how and when to use articles.

Information in this section is adapted from Chapter 5.3: Count and Noncount Nouns and Articles in Writing for Success by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing[1], which is made available by Pressbooks under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and is adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2011 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution.

Count and Noncount Nouns

Nouns are words that name things, places, people, and ideas. Right now, you may be surrounded by desks, computers, and notebooks. These are called count nouns because you can count the exact number of desks, computers, and notebooks—three desks, one computer, and six notebooks, for example.

On the other hand, you may be carrying a small amount of money in your wallet and sitting on a piece of furniture. These are called noncount nouns. Although you can count the pieces of furniture or the amount of money, you cannot add a number in front of money or furniture and simply add –s to the end of the noun. Instead, you must use other words and phrases to indicate the quantity of money and furniture.

Incorrect: five moneys, two furnitures

Correct: some money, two pieces of furniture

A count (or “countable) noun refers to people, places, and things that are separate units that you can count. You make count nouns plural by adding –s.


Table 5.1 Count Nouns
Count Noun Sentence
Quarter It takes six quarters to do my laundry.
Chair Make sure to push in your chairs before leaving class.
Candidate The two candidates debated the issue.
Adult The three adults in the room acted like children.
Comedian The two comedians made the audience laugh.

A noncount (or non-countable) noun identifies a whole object that you cannot separate and count individually. Noncount nouns may refer to concrete objects or abstract objects. A concrete noun identifies an object you can see, taste, touch, or count. An abstract noun identifies an object that you cannot see, touch, or count. There are some exceptions, but most abstract nouns cannot be made plural, so they are noncount nouns. Examples of abstract nouns include anger, education, money, homework, violence, and audience. Sometimes there are regional differences. In Canada, for example, “staff” is used as a non-count noun and is never used in the plural.

Table 5.2 Types of Noncount Nouns

Type of Noncount Noun Examples Sentence
Food sugar, salt, pepper, lettuce, rice Add more sugar to my coffee, please.
Solids concrete, chocolate, silver, soap The ice cream was covered in creamy chocolate.
Abstract Nouns peace, warmth, hospitality, information I need more information about the insurance policy.

Definite and Indefinite Articles

The word the is a definite article. It refers to one or more specific things. For example, the woman refers to not any woman but a particular woman. The definite article the is used before singular and plural count nouns.

The words a and an are indefinite articles. They refer to one nonspecific thing. For example, a woman refers to any woman, not a specific, particular woman. The indefinite article a or an is used before a singular count noun.

Definite Articles (The) and Indefinite Articles (A/An) with Count Nouns

I saw the concert. (singular, refers to a specific concert)

I saw the concerts. (plural, refers to more than one specific concert)

I saw the U2 concert last night. (singular, refers to a specific concert)

I saw a concert. (singular, refers to any nonspecific concert)


Exercise 4

Correct the misused or missing articles and rewrite the paragraph.

Stars are large balls of spinning hot gas like our sun. The stars look tiny because they are far away. Many of them are much larger than sun. Did you know that a Milky Way galaxy has between two hundred billion and four hundred billion stars in it? Scientists estimate that there may be as many as five hundred billion galaxies in an entire universe! Just like a human being, the star has a life cycle from birth to death, but its lifespan is billions of years long. The star is born in a cloud of cosmic gas and dust called a nebula. Our sun was born in the nebula nearly five billion years ago. Photographs of the star-forming nebulas are astonishing.


Once you have found all the errors you can, share with a classmate and compare your answers. Did your partner find an error you missed? Did you find an error your partner missed? Compare with your instructor’s answers.

Additional Resources

To learn more about articles, try these online activities from OWL Purdue; complete the exercise and then compare your responses with the answer key provided on the site:

  1. University of Minnesota Libraries. (2015). Writing for success. https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/


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