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Concepts as Units of Meaning

Communication is not a simple process. Once you've established internally what it is that you want to communicate, given the context and the particular situation, you need to answer two questions:

  • How do you choose the right words and their correct format that will put your point across to the listener or reader of your message? It will be through using the correct grammatical forms and structures you already master;
  • Which words should you use, from the multitude you find in the dictionaries?

This is where we attempt to categorise the concepts used in everyday life into the categories below.

Concepts referring to objects and the material world in general:

In traditional grammar the way we refer to objects (for this demonstration 'objects' will cover things, animals and people equally) is by the use of nouns and noun phrases. These, in turn, are concrete nouns and we shall see later the other type of nouns - the abstract nouns.

We split the concrete nouns into two further categories ~ count and mass:

Count nouns

These are the nouns that refer to one object in the singular and to more than one object in the plural. The simplest forms are:

  • the basic noun you find in the dictionary for the singular: a planet, one planet, a single planet;
  • turning this noun into plural gives you: two planets, three planets, several planets, many planets, a multitude of planets, an infinite number of planets, etc.

Another way to express plurality with count nouns is to use group nouns.

Mass nouns

Mass nouns are also called 'non-count' or 'uncountable' nouns, because they cannot be counted like in the example on the left. They are used to refer to substances:

  • in solid form ~ butter, wood, rock
  • in liquid form ~ water, milk, blood
  • in gas form ~ air, steam, smoke

You cannot count these as one butter, two butters; one milk, two milks or one smoke, two smokes - that would be bad English.

See below how to deal with mass nouns to express your meaning in plural.

Firstly, you need to understand and make the distinction between the different meanings of nouns that can be both count and mass. Take 'wood' for example: it can be

  • count, when used to mean 'forest' (as in 'a collection of trees') and then you can say: "My boyfriend and I had a long walk in the woods yesterday."
  • mass, when used to mean the material of which trees or other objects are made of: "Tommy's new toy train is made of wood."

Test your knowledge below!

Please note that all fields followed by an asterisk must be filled in.

The plural of mass nouns is sometimes formed by using new words and noun phrases.

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