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Teachers' blog


【Countable and Uncountable (part 2): ‘Some’ trouble!】

(Contributed by Ben)
It can be tricky remembering where to use countable and uncountable nouns. I often need to remind people of the difference when they’re using the words ‘some’, ‘many’, and ‘few’.
Today, let’s look at ‘some’:
This is something that a lot of people find slightly confusing. As a general rule, ‘some’ goes with plurals (for example ‘some things’ or ‘some people’) and uncountable nouns (for example, ‘some money’ or ‘some stuff’), but it doesn’t go with singular nouns (so don’t say ‘some contract’ or ‘some difficult question’).
Some words like ‘cake’ and ‘time’ have countable and uncountable forms, so you CAN say ‘some cake’ (the material) or ‘some cakes’ (meaning several entire cakes). There’s quite a difference between ‘sometimes’ (meaning ‘frequently’) and ‘sometime’ (meaning once, at an undecided time in the future).
There are some things for which there are several different words, some of which are countable, and some of which aren’t. You can say ‘some trouble’ (uncountable) or ‘some problems’ (plural) but not ‘some problem’ (because that should be ‘A problem’). There’s a similar situation with ‘job’ and ‘task’ (which are both countable) and ‘work’ (which is uncountable). You do a lot of work, and a lot of tasks, even if you only have one job.
There is one occasion where you might use ‘some’ with a singular noun – but it’s a bit unusual. If you say ‘Some idiot crashed into my car!’ you’re using ‘some’ to mean ‘a particular idiot, but I don’t know which one’. This use is normally used with quite an angry or sarcastic tone of voice. ‘I was walking along and some guy started trying to talk to me’. Here, ‘some guy’ means ‘a certain guy, but I don’t actually know who he was, and I’m annoyed by the situation’. In this case, the words ‘some guy’ would be strongly emphasised.

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