IELTS grammar: Articles and countable uncountable nouns

2 common IELTS grammar mistakes.

Do you know what most IELTS students have trouble with when it comes to their writing? … It’s articles (the, a, an) and countable/uncountable nouns.

Over many years of marking IELTS essays and listening to students when speaking, I have noticed the same mistakes, most commonly they are articles (the’, a, an) and countable/uncountable nouns.

Correct use of grammar in IELTS Writing and Speaking accounts for 25% of marks in the exam. If you have more than one grammar mistake in each sentence then the chances are that you will get a Band 5 or 6 in grammar in the writing section. Also in the Speaking test grammar is important. For articles (the, an, a) there are a lot of different rules in English regarding these.

With some knowledge on this you can learn to avoid making these common errors in your writing and speaking. Try the exercise at the bottom of the page and see how well you do.


The definite article (The)

1. When there is only one of something or when the person or object is specific.

The Queen, The Moon, The Sun, The Environment, The Government, The World, The Sky, The Country, The Ocean, The teacher.

The government has decided to reform economic policy.
The USA has just invested money on a project to do mining on the moon.
The Queen usually gives a televised speech on Christmas day in the UK.
When I was studying IELTS the teacher was very strict and gave lots of homework.
The country is now facing an economic crisis unlike any in history.


2. When the other person knows what we are talking about

  • John: ” I’m going to the shop, do you need anything? “
    Sally: “No thanks”   (both speakers know the shop in question)
  • Bob:  ” How was that restaurant? “
    Susan: ” The food was good and the service was great”  (the food and the service in that specific restaurant)
  • Lisa: ‘The car broke down again today”  (the car that they always use)
    Mike: “Not again ! we have to buy a new one soon”. 

3. With superlatives

The best, The worst, The longest, The latest, The most interesting, The most expensive, The tallest, The greatest, The least important, The most important.


4. With cardinal numbers

The First, The second, The Third, The fourth, The Fifth ..etc..


5. With adjectives connected to people

The youth, The elderly, The older generation, The unemployed, The injured, The disabled, The rich, The poor, The homeless.

  • The youth of today are more technologically savvy than the older generation.
  • The government wants to reduce welfare to the unemployed.
  • The number of homeless in London has increased in recent years.
  • New facilities have been put in place on public transport to make it easier for the disabled to use trains and buses.

6. With nationalities

The British, The Spanish, The Germans, The Koreans, The Dutch, The Chinese, The Americans, The Egyptians, The Australians… etc

(Note that in many cases the nationalities end in “s” such as, The Canadians, The Italians, The Thais, The Australians )

  • The Australians like cricket.
  • The ancient Egyptians built the pyramids.
  • Some people say that the Italians have the best cuisine.
  • The Chinese invented paper.
  • The Americans love baseball.
  • The Dutch speak English very well.

7. With particular places

  • Hotels – The Sheraton, The Hilton, The  Raffles, The Cumberland
  • Theatres– The Old Vic, The National Theatre, The Moscow art theatre
  • Museums – The British Museum, The Natural History Museum, The Louvre Museum
  • Oceans and Seas – The Indian ocean, The Atlantic ocean, The Mediterranean sea, The Caspian sea, The Mediterranean.
  • Deserts – The Sahara, The Atacama, The Gobi desert, The Mojave desert.
  • Historic buildings or sites – The Taj Mahal , The Tower of London, The Great pyramid, The Great Wall of China, The colosseum.
  • Mountain Ranges – The Himalayas, The Rocky mountains, The Alps, The Andes.

(In some cases we need ‘of’ ..The tower of London, The Bank of England, The University of London, The Houses of parliament.)


When not to use The:

1. Speaking generally:

  • I like flowers.
  • I don’t like loud noise.
  • Environmental problems are getting worse.
  • Crime is on the increase.
  • Workers are getting higher salaries.
  • Chinese manufacturing is increasing.
  • Sugar isn’t healthy.
  • Traffic is an issue in modern cities.
  • I like reading books.
  • Cats are fluffy.
  • Spiders are scary.

(none of these nouns needs ‘the’ before them)

When we speak about something in particular or if the listener knows what we are talking about then we need ‘the’ eg:

  • The flowers over there look nice.
  • The crime rate is rising in the UK.
  • The workers are not happy with the recent changes in the company.
  • The books we borrowed last week need to be returned to the library.
  • The traffic in this city is getting worse.
  • The Police now know who committed the crime.

2. Particular countries:

England, Ireland, France, Japan, China, Korea, Australia (unions need the: The USA,  The EU,  The UK,  The UAE)

  • Continents: Africa, Europe, India, Antarctica
  • Cities: London, New York, Rome, Sydney
  • Mountains: Everest, Fuji, Kilimanjaro, K2

Countable and Uncountable Nouns:

Many nouns are uncountable,  it is easy to make mistakes with these especially when using much, many, a few, a, an, all of, so here is a list of uncountable nouns.

  • Progress
  • News
  • Information
  • Work
  • Weather
  • Climate
  • Travel
  • Traffic
  • Pollution
  • Money
  • Education
  • Music
  • Electricity
  • Advice
  • Permission
  • Shopping
  • Research
  • Air
  • Data
  • Fire
  • Furniture

For a full word list click this link here.

 

When the noun is uncountable it is not possible to use much or many, see these sentences below.

  • We got many some information from the tourist office.

  • There is much a lot of traffic in the city.

  • We spent many a lot of money at the shops.

  • There was a few some news on the TV about the accident.

  • All of All the advice he gave me was good.

  • I listened to some music on the train.

  • An pollution is getting worse in the city. (no article)

  • A research was carried out on the problem. (no article)

  • I have much some time to study because I am not working right now.

As you can see I have made corrections with ‘some’ and ‘a lot of’ These words can be used with uncountable nouns.


Practice

There are 5 Sentences below which are incorrect, can you find the mistakes and correct them? (some sentences have more than one mistake.)

1. These days there are much problems with the environment, a government needs to do something about a problem.

2. The crime is a growing issue in modern societies because of an unemployment.

3. Eating many fast food is unhealthy and leads to the obesity.

4. Due to recent economic problems, many young people cannot find a job.

5. Traffic fumes in modern cities cause health problems for children and the elderly.

6. I asked my friend for some advices about the best way to pass a exam.

7. Many progress has been made in a research into cancer.

8. The media has a responsibility to report honest facts on the news.

9. I drank a water because I was so thirsty after running.

 

Click below to check the answers.

1. These days there are a lot of problems with the environment, the government needs to do something about the problem. (a lot of + uncountable, we also need The with government and problem)

2.  Crime is a growing issue in modern societies because of unemployment. (crime and unemployment do not need an article)

3. Eating a lot of fast food is unhealthy and leads to obesity. (fast food is uncountable so we need a lot of,  also the word obesity doesn’t need an article)

4. Due to recent economic problems, many young people cannot find a job. (correct sentence)

5. Traffic fumes in modern cities cause health problems for children and the elderly. (correct sentence)

6. I asked my friend for some advice about the best way to pass the exam. (advice is uncountable, cannot add s , also we can’t use a for exam in this case, we need the because there is only one exam in this situation)

7. A lot of progress has been made in research into cancer. (progress is uncountable,  always use a lot of with uncountable nouns, we can’t use a research either)

8. The media has a responsibility to report honest facts on the news. (correct sentence)

9. I drank some water because I was so thirsty after running. (using some before the uncountable noun is a good idea)


Leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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