English language learners often make mistakes in the use of articles (a/an, the). Their writing is characterised by overuse or underuse of articles and it could be due to factors like the interference of their mother tongue or lack of exposure to the English language. Many words that are countable in other languages are uncountable in English. Here are examples: advice, baggage, luggage, furniture, information, news, trouble and work. Some nouns in English can be used as countable and uncountable and have different meanings.
Look at these two sentences. Which is correct?
1) It was a pleasure to meet you. 2) It was pleasure to meet you. The first sentence is more acceptable than the second one because ‘pleasure’ as a countable noun means ‘an event or activity from which one derives enjoyment’. Here are more examples of ‘pleasure’ as a countable noun:
- It was such a pleasure to work with you.
- It is a pleasure having you in our team.
Consider the popular quotes below:
1) A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.
2) What we learn with pleasure we never forget.
3) All earthly delights are sweeter in expectation than in enjoyment; but spiritual pleasures more in fruition than in expectation.
The words ‘delight’ and ‘pleasure’ are used here as uncountable (in 1 & 2) and as countable nouns (in 3). The words are synonymous and as uncountable nouns mean ‘a feeling of happiness and enjoyment’.
When these words are used as countable nouns, the words have different meanings and refer to certain events or activities. Look at these examples:
1) It was a delight to be with you again after many months.
2) It was a pleasure to meet you.
3) It was a joy to go through your story.
In the above examples, the words delight, pleasure and joy have been used as countable nouns. As countable nouns ‘delight’ and ‘joy’ mean ‘a cause or source of great happiness’. Most countable nouns have plural forms and the three words listed above also have plural forms and they are: delights, pleasures and joys.
- Spending a few hours in the British Library was one of the delights of my stay in London.
- Playing with her dog and cat is one of her great pleasures.
- He shares his joys and sorrows with me.
Uncountable nouns have these characteristics:
1) Uncountable nouns are treated as singular as in, The news is quite interesting.
2) Indefinite articles (a/an) cannot be used with uncountable nouns. It is incorrect to say ‘an advice’ or ‘a furniture’ but we can say ‘a piece of advice’ and ‘a piece of furniture’.
Instead of indefinite articles the words/phrases ‘some’, ‘any’, ‘much’, ‘a lot of’, and ‘a great deal of’ can be used with uncountable nouns.
- I got some pleasure out of watching the movie.
- Her children give her so much joy.
- The event provided a great deal of fun.