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Agreement With Nouns

Pronouns replace nouns in a sentence. Like nouns, pronouns can act as the sub-ject or the object of a sentence. A singular pronoun is used to replace a singular noun.

  • A boy ran into the living room. He was looking for his toy.
  • Did you see the boy come in? Did you see him come in?

A plural pronoun is used to replace a plural noun.

  • Some children ran out to the garden. They were looking for Easter eggs.
  • They gave candy to some children. They gave candy to them.

Personal pronouns and collective nouns

When a collective noun refers to a single, impersonal entity, a singular pronoun (such as it) is used.

  • My work team is large. It is composed of 20 analysts.

When a collective noun refers to a group of various individuals, a plural pronoun (such as they or them) is used.

  • That family is close and caring. They are always there to support each other.

Noncount nouns

There is a group of English nouns that are neither singular nor plural and cannot be counted. These nouns are referred to as noncount nouns.

The rule for using them is quite simple: When used as the subject of a sentence, a noncount noun takes the third-person singular form of the verb.

  • The water tastes funny.
  • Sunshine makes me happy.

A noncount noun cannot be used with the indefinite article a/an, which means “one.” Compare the following sentences.

CORRECTI drank the water.
CORRECTI drank water.
INCORRECTI drank a water.

Because it has an uncertain volume, water is a noncount noun. Therefore, the word a cannot be used in the third sentence above, because water cannot be counted and is neither singular nor plural. Following are examples of other noncount nouns used in sentences.

  • My professor gives us homework.
  • They borrowed furniture.
  • I have time to do the dishes.
  • We had money back then.
  • Los Angeles has traffic day and night.
  • She didn’t get mail.
  • He wears jewelry.
  • Bruno sold clothes.

If a noun makes no sense when preceded by a/an, it is a noncount noun. However, certain other words can be used to specify an indefinite quantity with this category of nouns, such as some, little, a lot of, and much.

  • He bought some jewelry in an antique store.
  • I have little time for this.
  • Do they have a lot of money?
  • There’s too much furniture in this room.

A list of other common noncount nouns follows.

angereconomicshonestyrice
biologyelectricityhumiditysalt
breadexperiencelovesilver
cementfirelucksnow
chalkfogmeatsugar
cottonfoodpeaceviolence
couragegoldplasticwheat
darknessgrasspovertywind
dirtgravityprogresswood
dustheatrainwool

Some of these nouns can also be used with a/an when they are specific in meaning and not used to express the general meaning of the noun.

SPECIFIC MEANINGGENERAL MEANING
an experience I’ll never forgetExperience is the best teacher.
a fire of catastrophic proportionsFire is so destructive.
a love of raw natureI just want love.
a lasting peaceMay you live in peace.
a silver of exceptional purityThere is silver in this mine.

In formal English, a singular personal pronoun or possessive adjective is used to refer to an indefinite pronoun. Indefinite pronouns are those that do not refer to a specific person, for example, anybody, somebody, and everyone.

  • Somebody left his/her keys on the counter.
  • Everyone has his/her own way of doing things.

In informal English, a plural personal pronoun is often used to refer to an indefinite pronoun.

  • Somebody left their keys on the counter.
  • Everyone has their own way of doing things.

Following is a list of the most common indefinite pronouns.

  • anybody
  • anyone
  • anything
  • everybody
  • everyone
  • everything
  • nobody
  • no one
  • nothing
  • somebody
  • someone
  • something

Complex nouns are phrases that combine a head noun with a subordinate noun. The head noun is the subject of the sentence and determines the form of the verb. The subordinate noun is the object of the preposition of; the of phrase follows the head noun and completes the meaning of the subject. The phrase the glasses of wine consists of the head noun glasses, the preposition of, and the subordinate noun wine.

  • The glasses of wine are on the bar.

A plural verb (are) is required in this sentence, because the subject (glasses) is plural. If the noun phrase has a singular subject, the verb form is singular.

  • A bottle of wine is in the cooler.

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