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English Vocabulary

Common errors with nouns and noun phrases

Expressions that take singular verbs

Some common expressions take singular verbs even though they may contain a plural noun.

Examples are: bacon and eggs; cheese and biscuits; fish and chips etc.

  • Bacon and eggs was served for breakfast.
  • Where is the cheese and biscuits?
  • Fish and chips is popular in England.

Nouns that do not have a plural form

Not all nouns have a plural form: for example, furniture, wheat, dust, news, advice, information, luggage, bread, trouble and scenery normally have only a singular form.

  • The scenery here is good. (NOT The sceneries here are good.)
  • I have lost my furniture. (NOT … my furnitures.)
  • We have received no information. (NOT … no informations.)
  • He told his mother this news. (NOT … these news.)
  • There is no bread in this shop. OR There are no loaves in this shop. (NOT There are no breads in this shop.)
  • Please excuse me for the trouble I have caused. (NOT … for the troubles I have caused.)
  • I am learning a new poem. (NOT … a new poetry.)
Pants and trousers

Pants means underclothes covering the upper part of the leg. Trousers means outer garment for the legs, reaching from waist to ankles.

  • Students should wear white trousers. (NOT … white pants.)
Theatre, play and drama

A theatre is a building in which plays are acted, not the play itself. Drama is rarely used nowadays in the sense in which foreign students are likely to use it, that is to say to mean a play, whether acted by professionals or amateurs.

  • We saw a play. (NOT We saw a theatre.)
  • We like acting plays. (NOT we like taking part in drama.)
Man and gentleman

Gentleman is a difficult word to use correctly in colloquial English. Use the term when you are referring to a man’s character.

  • He is a real gentleman. (praising him)
  • He is not a gentleman. (criticizing him)

Use man to denote an adult of the male sex.

  • He is a tall man.
Lady and woman

Woman is the usual word to denote an adult of the female sex. It is quite polite. She is a lady means that she is a woman of particularly good birth, breeding and taste.

  • I saw two women. (NOT I saw two females.)
Dress

The word dress is generally used with reference to women’s attire.

  • He was wearing a new suit. (NOT He was wearing a new dress.)

But note that we do say ‘a man in full dress’ or ‘evening dress’.

Relations

The English language uses relatively loose terms to express relationships. Aunt means the sister of either father or mother. Uncle means the brother of either father or mother. Cousin means any child of any aunt or uncle.

  • He is my cousin. (NOT He is my cousin brother.)
A plural noun that names a single subject

When a group of words containing a plural noun represents a single subject, you must use a singular verb.

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is my favourite novel.
  • The Crusades is a book that comes in two volumes.
  • Memories of the War is worth reading.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s books are always exciting.
Collective nouns

Collective nouns take a singular verb if you are talking of the group as a whole. They take a plural verb if you are talking about individuals within the group.

Compare:

  • The team is on the field.
  • The team are changing.
  • The class is a bright one.
  • The class are a mixed lot.
  • His family is living in that house.
  • His family are living in various parts of Sydney.
  • The jury is in the courtroom.
  • The jury are still debating the case.

 

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