Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Countable and Uncountable Nouns in the English Language

When it comes to nouns in the English language, they can be divided into two groups: those that we call countable, and those that we call uncountable. There are a number of ways to distinguish between the two. To start, let's look at what I believe is the simpler of the two to understand, countable nouns.

Countable Nouns

Most nouns are countable, which means that as the name suggests, they can be counted. This means that we can say there are one, two, or however many of them. For example, we can say "one cat" or "two cats".

Since these nouns can be counted, they can have both a singular and a plural form. Usually in English, the plural form is made by adding -s to the end of the noun. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule. Since countable nouns can have both singular and plural forms, they can also be used with verbs that are conjugated in both the singular and plural forms.

This is one orange cat.
For example, we can say both "there is one cat in the house" and "there are two cats in the house". In addition to using numbers, we can say "there is a cat in the house" or "there are some cats in the house," with some being used exclusively with the plural of countable nouns.

When there are a lot of a countable noun, you have to use many and never use much. For example, "there are many cats in this house" instead of "there are much cats in this house". You can also say "there are a lot of cats in this house".

The main points of countable nouns:
  • Can be singular or plural.
  • Can be used with both singular and plural verb conjugations.
  • Can use a/an in singular.
  • Can use some in plural.
  • Many not much.
Uncountable Nouns

When you talk about uncountable nouns, things get a little bit more difficult. Uncountable nouns cannot be counted. Uncountable nouns usually include things like liquids, gases, and powders. For example, water, air, and sugar.

Since they can't be counted, you cannot have two, three, etc., of uncountable nouns. They also don't have plural forms, which means that you cannot use plural verb conjugations with them. For example, we can say "there is air in the room" but never "there are air in the room".

Here is some sugar or four types of sugar.
You also can't use a or an as an article with uncountable nouns. This means you can't say "I would like a sugar". Instead, you have to say "I would like some sugar".

You can never use many with uncountable nouns. However, you can use much, but only when using the negative. For example, "there isn't much sugar in this tea". When using the positive, you have to say "there is a lot of sugar in this tea."

Uncountable nouns:
  • Always paired with singular verb conjugations.
  • Always use some rather than a/an.
  • Use much in the negative.
  • Use a lot of or lots of in the positive.
Uncountable nouns can always be made countable by adding a countable noun. For example, water is uncountable but a bottle of water is countable, since bottle is countable.

Have any lingering questions about countable or uncountable nouns? We'll be happy to answer them in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

English Superlatives Are the Best

At the end of last week we took a look at English comparatives, words that are used to compare two things and say which is bigger, better, or more beautiful, for example. Today we're going to continue focusing on the English language as we look at things that are beyond comparison, also known as superlatives.

Superlatives are used to explain something that is in some way beyond comparison. In English, these words are created in a similar way to comparatives, but rather than adding the -er suffix, we add the suffix -est.

Last week we used big, hot, fat, and thin as our example adjectives because their final consonants double. As comparatives, they become bigger, hotter, fatter, and thinner. When used as superlatives, they become biggest, hottest, fattest, and thinnest.

Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world.
In terms of syllables, the same rules apply to both comparatives and superlatives. When adjectives are too long to add the -est suffix, we add "most" to create a superlative. Therefore the word beautiful becomes the most beautiful.

As with comparatives and the English language in general, there are always exceptions. For example, the superlative of good is the best and the superlative of bad is the worst.

Hopefully these simple rules will help you have the best English grammar around!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Grass Is Always Greener: Comparatives in English

In almost every language, there is the notion of comparative adjectives. As human beings, we are very interested in whether something is bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, hotter, colder, fatter, or thinner than something else.

All of the words in the list above were comparatives, which are used when you consider two things and compare them. Pretty obvious, right? In English, comparatives generally consist of an adjective with the -er suffix at the end. Of course, much like English gerunds, certain spelling rules apply.

One of these rules involves doubling the final consonant. Consider the adjectives big, hot, fat, and thin from the examples above. In these cases, since the adjective is short and uses a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant, the final consonant is doubled. Therefore big becomes bigger, hot becomes hotter, and fat becomes fatter. See what happened there?

Of course, not all comparatives are alike. For instance, when adjectives get to be too long (two or more syllables, to be precise), English decides that the -er suffix will not suffice. In these instances, the word "more" is used. Consider beautiful, one of the nicest words in English. In this situation, you have to say that something is more beautiful than something else.

That's not all of the rules though, as there are always exceptions. One of the most commonly used comparatives in English is better, the comparative form of good. Bad also follows an irregular pattern by becoming worse when comparative. Adverbs follow the same rules too, with well becoming better and badly becoming worse when used as comparatives.

If you're curious to learn more about the rules involved in the creation of English superlatives like tallest and shortest, be sure to check back next week!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

10 Tips for Learning a Language in 2016

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, people often choose to learn a new language. Whether it's for work, fun, or whatever other reason, learning a language isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. It's a long process, which leads people to give up far too often. That's why today I thought I'd give you a few of my personal tips for learning a language, in hopes that this won't happen to you.

1: Choose Wisely

You shouldn't buy the first car you see on the lot. I'd say the same is true for languages. You're much more likely to give up on your language-learning mission if you don't really like the language you're learning or you don't have a good reason to learn it. If you only learn a language because you feel you have to, you're not going to enjoy it as much!

Slow and steady wins the race.
2: Slow and Steady

Remember that learning a language will take time, a lot of time. Don't start your journey thinking that you'll be fluent after a couple of months or even a year. Just go at your own pace. Those learning their first foreign language are often overly ambitious, and eventually become disenchanted with the whole process.

3: Make Mistakes

Nobody's perfect. I have said this before and I'll say it again. Making mistakes is one of the most important things that will happen to you as you learn a foreign language. When you make a mistake and are corrected in a foreign language, it gives you an opportunity to improve and learn. It's very rare that your mistake will cause offence, and most people around the world are very aware that those learning a language will make mistakes.

4: Speak as Much as You Can and Try Out the Accent

I believe that speaking is the most important part of learning a language, yet this wasn't reflected in my foreign language classes in school. Speaking is always the first thing you learn to do with a language. Nobody learns to write before they can speak in their mother tongue, so why should it be any different for your new foreign language? If you have the opportunity to talk to someone in your new language, give it a go!

A personal bugbear of mine is when people make no attempt to emulate the accent of the foreign language they're learning. Every language has a unique sound, so if you just speak with your own accent, it will be more difficult for native speakers to understand you. Don't be shy; if you make the effort, people will notice.

5: Listen to the Radio and Music

How many hours do you spend idle each week? Even if it's just background noise, you can fill your environment with the sounds of the language you're learning. If you listen to commercial radio, you'll quickly find that you've become familiar with the various phrases that are repeated throughout the day.

There are also plenty of places to find music in other languages. If you don't mind adverts, you can always look for foreign language music on Spotify (or enjoy it advert-free for a small fee).

6: Watch Movies

It may seem like a stretch if you're just starting to learn a new language, but there's never been a better time to get foreign language films and media. I always like to check film sites and lists online for possible viewing materials before heading to online retailers like Amazon to buy a DVD.

When you're first starting out, it's nice to just hear the language you're learning and follow the subtitles in your own language. Once you start to progress, you can watch with subtitles before finally removing them and just using your ears.

7: Play Games

Some people love learning languages, others don't. That's fine. I never really enjoyed learning languages in school because it focused on grammar drills and conjugating verbs, which I didn't find very fun or entertaining. While these things are important, you need to be engaged in order to learn a language.

If you like to play games, particularly on the go, there are many language learning games to choose from. Personally, I would avoid these and instead play games you already own in the language you're learning (when possible).

You can also check out our post on gift ideas for language lovers if you'd like to get somebody something fun to help them with their language learning.

8: Get an App

If you're like me, you take your phone everywhere with you. Why not use of some of the time you spend idly messing about with your phone to improve your language learning? We've mentioned in the past that you shouldn't use a translation app when learning a new language. However, there are plenty of different language learning apps out there to help you on your way.

I enjoy using Duolingo, and would recommend it to anyone starting to learn any of the languages they have available. You can read our early review of it here.

The world is a marvelous place. Go out and enjoy it!
9: Travel

If you have the chance and can afford it, I highly recommend living and breathing the language you are learning. If you can go where the language is spoken, you will have many more opportunities to practise, as well as enjoy and experience the culture, cuisine, music, and lifestyle that accompanies your chosen language. Get out there!

10: Don't Learn Alone

Nowadays everyone and everything is connected. Whether remotely or in person, you can easily connect with other language learners, language experts, or native speakers of whatever language you're learning. You're much less likely to give up if you have the support of others.

Do you have any tips for learning a language? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: The Best of Languages on the Web

On Wednesday, we looked back at our most popular posts from 2015. Today we're going to give you our picks of the best language content we saw throughout the year.


Our first pick comes from James Chapman of Soundimals, a series of amazing multilingual illustrations. His "How to Sound Happy in Eight Languages" brought a smile to our faces for the start of the year. You can see the image here and see other brilliant illustrations on the Tumblr here.

We also enjoyed a snippet from the "Beeb" (or the BBC if you're not from the UK) which discusses the work of American linguist Noam Chomsky on language acquisition and human language. You can listen to it here.


Our favourites from February include an amusing comic from Itchy Feet. This strip, called "Expressive Vowels", gave us a giggle and made us appreciate the diaresis (or trema or umlaut). You can read the comic here and read the other amazing comics here.


In March we enjoyed The Guardian article entitled "A Quick Guide to Speak Franglais". It discusses the Académie française and the French government's efforts to protect the French language, as well as the increasing influence of English on the language. You can read the article here or more on language from The Guardian here.


As we love April Fool's Day, we also loved the article on "Grungespeak" from the Oxford Dictionaries' blog. The post discussed fictionalised words that gained some credibility as journalists tried to ride the wave of grunge music in the early '90s. You can read the article here and check out the OxfordWords blog here.


In May, NPR looked at the relationship between language and memory and how accents foreign to us make it more difficult to remember words. You can read the article here and more from NPR on languages here.


The pick from June mixes pop-punk and linguistics, two of my favourite things. The article "I Made a Linguistics Professor Listen to a Blink-182 Song and Analyze the Accent" revealed some valuable insights into why accent is so important to music. You can read the article here.


The Atlantic had a fascinating article on Toki Pona, a language with a hundred words. You can read the article, "How to Say (Almost) Everything in a Hundred-Word Language" here.


In August we read a great article from, "7 Common Language Learning Strategies That Don’t Work (And How to Fix Them)". You can read some of Benny Lewis' best tips and tricks here.


We're back with NPR for September. We loved their piece on pleonasms, which you can learn about by reading or listening to "Please Don't Have A Temper Tantrum About The Pleonasm In This Headline" here.


In October we enjoyed an article from on the Indus script and how it was deciphered. You can read the fascinating piece here.

Trees, like languages, also have roots.

Another article from The Guardian grabbed our attention in November. We love stuff on language acquisition and the beginnings of language, so this article was great for us. You can read the discussion on "The roots of language: what makes us different from other animals?" here.


To finish the year, we liked this piece about non-binary pronouns on the BBC. As the discussion on gender identity becomes more and more important, we can see how language adapts and how we can adapt language to better suit our world. You can read the article here.

Were there any language articles you enjoyed from 2015 that should have made our list? Tell us about them in the comments below and we'll be sure to share the best suggestions with our followers.