TOEFL Writing Tips: Count & Noncount Nouns

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As with all tips for the TOEFL writing section, it’s important to keep in mind that while minor errors are acceptable, the frequency of minor errors, particularly combined with larger grammatical problems will undoubtedly detract from your overall score.

In particular, ESL students generally have problems with count and noncount nouns, primarily because such nouns vary from one language to the next.  A primary way of getting this grammar down is memorizing most common noncount nouns.  Here is a quick 101 on count and noncount nouns to refresh your memory for test day:

Count Nouns

Basically count nouns are nouns you can count, meaning they can be singular or plural.  “A” or “an” can often come before count nouns.  Count nouns can be multiplied by simply adding an “s.”

Noncount Nouns

Noncount nouns are things you can’t count separately, meaning we usually do not use “a” or “an” before them.  These nouns also have no plural form and the words “some” or “the” often precede them.  Here are some common noncount nouns:

· advice, air, accounting, behavior, coffee, heat, salt, copper, civics, calcium, clothing, film, equipment, bread, helium, singing, peace, pollution, violence, gasoline, water, responsibility, time

Transforming Noncount Nouns

Sometimes, to make a noncount non-countable we use a phrase that gives them a countable form.  Here are some examples of such phrases:

· a piece of meat

· a game of tennis

· a cup of water

· a clap of thunder

Specific Cases of Plurality

Keep in mind: When we use “some” before a noncount noun, it often is referring to nouns that don’t have specific boundaries.  (Example: I drank some orange juice.)  Also, the word “people” often confuses ESL learners.  Typically, “people” is plural and does not have s singular form.  (Example: North American people value education.)  However, sometimes the word “people” can mean a specific group of human beings, meaning it can have both a plural and singular form.


The Chinese are a people of Asia.

Various peoples have settled in Vancouver.

Remember: Knowing the proper usage of noncount nouns is not only valuable on the writing section, but also the speaking section, too.  Keep a list handy of the most common noncount nouns by category so you won’t forget them.

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