Nouns and Articles for English Grammar (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 12, 2011

Possessive Forms of Nouns

Two rules are helpful in forming possessive nouns:

  1. With singular nouns and with plural nouns that do not end in s, add 's to form the possessive: boy, boy's; child, child's; Jane, Jane's; children, children's; brethren, brethren's; sisters-in-law, sisters-in-law's.
  2. With plural nouns and with singular nouns that end in s, add ' or 's to form the possessive: boys, boys'; girls, girls'; Russians, Russians'; Charles, Charles', Charles's; Yeats, Yeats', Yeats's.

Collective Nouns

A collective noun may represent a group or class considered as a unit. Such a collective noun is considered singular.

A collective noun may also represent a group or class of individuals considered as individuals. In this case, the collective noun is treated as plural.

The writer must decide how he or she intends a collective noun to be understood and must be consistent in treatment of the noun.

Some of the most common collective nouns are: army, audience, band, committee, couple, flock, group, jury, majority, and team. These nouns may be treated as singulars or plurals. When a collective noun is singular, its verb must be singular. When plural, its verb must be plural.

The following sentences show both uses:


    The army is advancing slowly.     (The entire army as a unit.)
    The band has played well.     (The entire band as a unit.)
    The jury has reached a verdict.     (The entire jury as a unit.)


    The audience are leaving their seats now.     (The members of the audience are thought of as individuals.)
    The committee disagree with the stand taken by the minority.     (The members of the committee are thought of as individuals. The committee has not taken a single stand as a unit.)
    The young couple were unhappy with the apartment they rented.     (Both husband and wife, as individuals, were unhappy.)

Certain collective nouns, for example, athletics, contents, and politics, appear to be plural because they end in s. Yet they are treated as singulars when they are intended as singulars and, of course, they are treated as plurals when they are thought of as plurals. Again, the writer must treat them consistently either as singulars or plurals:


    The contents of the valise was examined thoroughly by the guard.     (The writer treats contents as a unit.)
    Statistics is not my best subject.     (The writer is discussing a discipline called statistics.)


    The remaining contents of the valise were thrown about the room.     (The writer is thinking of the individual objects that make up the contents of the valise.)
    Statistics are said to mislead the unwary.     (The writer is thinking of individual computations that together constitute what we call statistics.)

Noun Clauses

A noun clause has a subject and verb and functions as a noun. Noun clauses are usually introduced by that, what, who, whoever, whatever, why, when, where, how, or which.

As Subjects

    That a politician can act that way after years in office never occurred to me.     (subject of occurred)
    Why he acts the way he does mystifies me.     (subject of mystifies)

As Objects

    She insisted that she would change her ways.     (object of insisted)
    She insisted she would change her ways.     (object of insisted)

As Predicate Complements

    Life is whatever you make it.     (complement of is)
    You now are where I would love to be.     (complement of are)

As Objects of Prepositions

    He is taking action on all the problems of which you complained.     (object of of)
    I purchased the book for which you bid.     (object of for)


There are two types of articles: definite and indefinite. Articles are considered modifiers of nouns and pronouns.

Definite Article

The definite article is the. It is used to indicate a specific class of nouns or pronouns or a specific member of a class of nouns or pronouns:

    The whale is still an endangered species.     (The whale as distinct from other species.)
    He gave me the assignment I requested.     (He gave me a specific assignment.)
    The teacher gave the class enough homework for the week.     (A specific teacher, a specific class, a specific week.)
    George Bush is the president I remember best.
    They are the ones who own the property.

Omission of the Definite Article

The definite article is omitted when the writer does not specify a particular amount or quantity of the noun.

    Teachers assign homework.     (An indefinite number of teachers assign an indefinite amount of homework.)
    Salt is an important commodity.     (The writer has not specified an amount of salt.)
    The salt on our table is rarely used.     (In specifying a particular amount of salt, the writer uses the definite article.)

Indefinite Article

The indefinite articles are a and an. They are used as modifiers to indicate an unspecified class or member of a class of nouns:

    Ms. Smith gave her father enough money for a week.     (The week is unspecified.)
    A steak costs $25 in some restaurants.     (This means any unspecified steak.)
    Carpenters may never again be paid $20 an hour in New York City.     (This means any unspecified hour regardless of when the work is performed.)

Choosing Between a and an

A is used before a word beginning with a consonant sound:

    A stereo played all night.     (Consonant sound s.)
    He used a hammer to nail the board.     (Consonant sound h.)
    A one-hour lecture is more than I can take.     (One begins with the consonant sound w, as in won.)
    He was a useful person.     (Useful begins with the consonant sound y as in yet.)

An is used before a word beginning with a vowel sound:

    She was an able person.     (Vowel sound a.)
    He talked for an hour.     (Hour begins with a vowel sound ou, as in our.)

Review exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Nouns and Articles Review Exercises for English Grammar

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