Advanced Grammar for IELTS: Nouns and noun phrases

Advanced Grammar for IELTS: Nouns and noun phrases – Diagnose Test, Grammar Explanation & Practice Exercises

A      DIAGNOSTIC TEST:  Nouns and noun phrases

In each sentence, either one or both of the forms in bold is correct. Tick (✓) the sentences where both forms are correct. Underline the correct form in the others.


Mumps is/ are not too problematic if contracted in childhood, but can be dangerous in later life.

  1. The chair/ chairwoman has just phoned to say she’s been delayed in traffic.
  2. For really good electric pianos/ pianoes, have a look in Marston’s.
  3. Corn circles are one of the strangest phenomenons/ phenomena of recent times.
  4. Parliament consists of 653 MP’s/ MPs, about two-thirds of whom belong to the Government.
  5. For this dish, you need to weigh the ingredients carefully on the kitchen scale/ kitchen scales.
  6. The Asthma Helpline will be able to give you advice/ an advice.
  7. This checkout is for customers with fewer/ less than five items only.
  8. He was hit on the head by stone/a stone and had to go to hospital.
  9. The supermarket is doing a lot of different fruit/ fruits from the Far East at the moment.
  10. The most exciting event for most British viewers in the Sydney Olympics was/ were the rowing finals.
  11. The Society’s President, against the wishes of the other founder members, has/ have agreed to the sale.
  12. Bread and butter is/ are eaten with meals by most people in the North of England.
  13. ‘The Three Kings’ was/ were a great success for George Clooney.
  14. Have you thought about doing gymnastics? I think it’s/ they’re very good for you.
  15. Recent events prove the saying that twenty-four hours is/ are a long time in politics.
  16. The Council’s team of social workers is/ are to be commended for their actions.
  17. The United Nations is/ are sending a special envoy to the conflict zone.
  18. I’ll take you to the station if you give me shout/ a shout when you’re ready.
  19. The attack on the Minister was/ The people attacked the Minister and it was unprovoked and extremely vicious.
  20. The first outbreak/ breakout of the epidemic was in Zaire in the 1980s

B       GRAMMAR EXPLANATION:  Nouns and noun phrases

English nouns generally present few problems for the advanced learner but some aspects of countability and noun-verb agreement can be problematic. This unit looks at these aspects, as well as at plural nouns and at the nominalisation of verbs into nouns.


1A. Form and meaning

English nouns only change their form when they are plural and to show possession.

Nouns can be countable or uncountable, and concrete (table, child, station, food, storm) or abstract (hope, responsibility, anger, efficiency, consternation).

1B. Gender

Nouns do not have grammatical gender in English. Some have a ‘natural’ gender, e.g. woman = female, father = male. Most nouns for jobs do not imply a gender. To specify gender, we have to say, e.g. a woman doctor. However, some nouns for jobs and roles do refer to males or females, often by their suffix, e.g. businessman (male), manageress (female). It used to be common to use the -man suffix to refer to people of both sexes:

That’s the view of Sheila Davison, chairman of the Institute of Public Relations.

A lot of people avoid this now, especially if referring to a woman, and prefer a form with no implicit gender, e.g. chair, or to match the suffix to the person, e.g. chairwoman:

That’s the view of Sheila Davison, chair(woman) of the Institute of Public Relations.


2A. Regular plurals

In writing, most English nouns form the plural with -s. This is true of nouns which end in most consonants (e.g. road -» roads, bag -» bags, town -» towns) and the vowels a and e (e.g. area -» areas, rope -» ropes). But note these variations:

noun plural form examples
ending in consonant + y:

BUT vowel + y:

ending in –ch, -s, -sh, -x, -z:


ending in consonant + o:

BUT vowel + o:

+ ies

+ s

+ es




family => families, party => parties

tray => trays, monkey => monkeys

watch => watches, boss => bosses,

fox => foxes, waltz => waltzes 2

potato => potatoes, hero => heroes 3

radio => radios, video => videos

1          If the pronunciation of ch is /k/, add – s only: patriarch => patriarchs.

2          Note these exceptions of vowel + z: quiz => quizzes, fez => fezzes.

3          Some words ending in -o, especially words from other languages, take -s only: piano => pianos, photo => photos, kilo => kilos, adagio => adagios.

2B. Irregular plurals

English does not have very many irregular plurals. Here are some examples:

noun plural examples
Ending in –f or –fe

foreign nouns


usually + ves 1

varies according

to origin of word:

leaf => leaves, loaf => loaves

Latin origin: terminus => termini,

datum => data, vertebra => vertebrae

Greek origin: crisis => crises,

phenomenon => phenomena

other irregulars + (r)en:

change of vowel:

no change in plural:

child => children, ox => oxen

women => women, foot => feet

sheep => sheep, craft => craft (e.g. boat)

1 Several words ending in -f and all those ending –ff just take -s: chief => chiefs, belief => beliefs, cliff => cliffs. Some words ending in -f take either plural ending: scarf => scarfs/ scarves. You can check irregular plurals in a dictionary.

You may sometimes see plurals formed with an apostrophe, especially with dates and abbreviations: 1960’s, some CP’s. This is quite common and may be considered correct in informal writing, but it is considered incorrect in formal written English.

2C. Nouns with no singular form

Some English nouns are more common in the plural form. These occur in a number of categories:

  • Clothing: clothes, jeans, trousers, pyjamas, trunks, dungarees
  • Tools/equipment: scissors, glasses (= spectacles), scales, handcuffs, pliers
  • Games: dominoes, darts, cards, bowls
  • Subjects/activities: physics, maths, politics, economics, aerobics, athletics
  • Other: goods, whereabouts, remains, thanks, news, stairs, proceeds

These nouns may have a singular form with a different meaning or as part of a compound noun: a glass (e g. wine glass), a pyjama party, a dartboard


3A. Use

Countable nouns are usually concrete nouns and they can be ‘counted’: a computer, three computers. Uncountable nouns cannot be ‘counted’: oil, beauty, fruit. We do not use a/ an with uncountable nouns, and we do not make them plural:

X  The Asthma Helpline will be able to give you an advice/some advices

The Asthma Helpline will be able to give you (some) advice

Note:  There are some differences between British English and US English: accommodation (uncountable in British English / accommodations (countable in US English).

Some determiners change according to whether the noun is countable or not:

For good health we should eat a few vegetables every day, as well as a little fruit.

It is also advisable to drink less alcohol and eat fewer sweet things.

Noe: In informal English it is possible to use less rather than fewer with countable nouns, although many people consider this to be incorrect:

[You should eat less sweet things.] [There are less people here than yesterday.]

Less is always correct if it refers to a ‘whole’, e.g. a period of time:

The flight takes less than three hours (three hours = a period of time)

3B. Countable and uncountable meanings

Some nouns can be countable or uncountable, but have different meanings:

noun countable meaning uncountable meaning
Coffee 1 I’d love a coffee, please.
(= a cup of coffee)
Do you drink coffee? (= the liquid)
Chicken 2 I’ll buy a chicken for dinner
(= the whole bird)
Would you like some chicken for dinner?(= a part/the dish)
Drawing 2 This is an amazing drawing by Leonardo. (= a picture) My son is very good at drawing
(= the activity)
Stone 2 Someone threw a stone at
our window.
(= one item)
In this flat landscape of scrub and
stone …
(= the material)

1 This applies to all drinks: tea/a tea, beer/ a beer, lemonade/ a lemonade

2 There are other examples of the same type as these, but not all nouns of the type can be both countable and uncountable: a duck/duck, a fish/fish, but not a-beef, a-pork, a painting/ painting, a sculpture/ sculpture, but not an-aft, a-poetry: a paper/ paper., a rock/rock, but not a wool, a –cotton.

3C. Quantifying uncountable noun

We can refer to a specific example of an uncountable noun with determiner + countable noun + of + uncountable noun. Common countable nouns in this pattern are piece and bit:

The Council will remove two pieces of unwanted furniture if desired.

Did you hear that interesting bit of gossip about Susan?

Other common nouns used in this way are: a slice of bread/meat/cheese/cake, an item of news/furniture/clothing, a lump of sugar/coal, a cup of coffee/tea.

We can sometimes make an uncountable noun countable when we want to express ‘different types’ of the noun:

The wines of Australia are now of similar quality to many from France.

We can make some uncountable abstract nouns countable if we refer to a specific type of the noun, for example, distrust => a deep distrust, a distrust of accountants. This is common with nouns connected with emotions. We do not make these nouns plural:

Jealousy is an enormously destructive emotion.

She felt an incomprehensible jealousy when she saw him with her daughter.


4A. Subject + verb + object/ complement

In English the verb usually agrees with the subject even if the verb is separated from its subject by prepositional phrases, relative clauses, brackets or commas:

The petrol station across the road from the new shops has just cut its prices.

However, if the verb is a long way from the subject but is closer to a complement, it is possible to agree the verb with the complement. Compare:

The most exciting event was the rowing finals.

The most exciting event in the Sydney Olympics for most British viewers was/ were the rowing finals.

The same can apply after what used to introduce a relative:

What the Board needs to address now is/ are the terms of the redundancies.

4B. Two subjects/ Plural subjects + verb

We usually use a plural verb with two subjects linked by and or both … and:

Mum and Dad were hoping that you’d join them this evening.

Both the doctor and the surgeon have advised me to have my gall bladder out.

Note: However, we use a singular verb if we consider the two items as one concept:

X  Fish and chips are one of the most common English dishes.

Fish and chips is one of the most common English dishes.

Titles of books, films, etc. take a singular verb, even if they are plural nouns:

Hitchcock’s film ‘The Birds’ is based on a story by Daphne du Maurier.

When we link two items by or, the verb usually agrees with the second of the items:

Either my brother or my parents are going to bring the sleeping bags.

4C. Noun ending in -s + verb

Some uncountable nouns end in -s but take a singular verb. These often concern illness (measles, mumps), sport (aerobics, gymnastics) or study (mathematics, politics):

German measles is a particularly dangerous illness for pregnant women.

Politics is a topic best avoided with people you don’t know well.

Some nouns refer to one object divided into two parts and take a plural verb, e.g. scissors, trousers, scales:

Scissors are used to cut the jeans.

Note: A plural subject describing a single entity, e.g. measurement, can take a singular verb:

X  Two metres aren’t particularly tall these days.

Two metres isn’t particularly tall these days.

Twenty-four hours is a long time in politics.

4D. Collective noun + verb

We can use either a singular or a plural verb with most collective nouns, i.e. nouns referring to a group of people, animals or things, e.g. family, government, group, staff, team, band, class, jury. A singular verb presents the collective noun as a ‘whole’ entity:

The family has agreed that the funeral should be held in Ireland.

A plural verb presents the noun as a group of individuals, e.g. family members:

The family are all gathering here for Christmas.

A large number of proper nouns fall into this category, e.g. the United Nations:

The United Nations has agreed to deploy a peacekeeping force.

The United Nations are in disagreement on this issue.

Note: Unlike British English, US English prefers a singular verb in these cases. In English we prefer to use a singular verb after a collective noun if we use a/an rather than the:

A team of inspectors is visiting the prison tomorrow afternoon.

A few collective nouns always take a plural verb, e.g. cattle, police, people:

The police are investigating his accusation of fraud.

An adjective used as a collective noun always takes a plural:

The middle-aged have a lot to offer employers, if only they would see it.

It is common to use a plural verb after nouns such as the majority, a number, a couple, when these are followed by of + a plural noun:

The majority of the people were pleased to see the government fall.


5A. Verb => noun

It is possible to make verbs into nouns in English by adding a suffix, e.g. -ion, -ment, -er: educate => education, establish =>  establishment, teach => teacher.

It is also possible to use many verbs as nouns, especially in informal English:

Can’t you open that? Shall I give it a try?

I’ll take you to the station if you give me a shout when you’re ready.

Note: This does not apply to every verb. It is best to check in a good dictionary. It is also possible to make nouns from multi-word verbs. The particle often (but not always) precedes the verb in the noun form:

The epidemic first broke out in Zaire.=> The first outbreak of the epidemic …

The plane took off very smoothly. => The takeoff was smooth.

The car broke down five kilometres from home. => The breakdown happened …

5B. Verb phrase => noun phrase

It is sometimes more concise and elegant, especially in written English, to use noun phrases rather than verb phrases to express an idea:

  • Verb phrase: The committee decided to open the playground to all children. This was

welcomed by the local schools.

  • Noun phrase: The committee’s decision/ The decision of the committee to open the

playground to all children was welcomed by the local schools.

The noun phrase is often made up of two nouns linked by a preposition:

verb phrase noun phrase
They released the video in 1998.

The low was amended last week.

The war drained the country’s resources.

The release of the video in 1998 …

The amendment to the law last week.

The war was a drain on the country’s  resources.

An adverb in a verb phrase changes to an adjective if the verb is nominalised:

The girl shouted loudly and attracted the attention she wanted.

The girl’s loud shouts attracted the attention she wanted.


Q 1.

Complete the crossword from the clues below.


1          plural of quay

5          neutral form of chairman

6          singular of media

7          singular of wharves

10        plural of formula

12        singular of heroes

15        plural of monarch

16        plural of mosquito


2          plural of sheriff

3          neutral form of manageress

4          plural of quiz

8          plural of address

9          plural of flamingo

11        plural of goose

13        plural of crisis

14        singular of oases

Q 2.

Underline the correct words or phrases in bold to complete this article.

Cookery Corner

In today’s Cookery Corner I’d like to address a request from Mrs Parkinson of Suffolk for (1) an information/information about which type of (2) chocolate/chocolates to use in cooking. Well. Mrs P, my (3) advice is/ advices are always to use the best possible chocolate you can find. It’s the same principle as with (4) wines/wine: in cooking always use (5) an equivalent quality/ equivalent quality to what you eat or drink. With chocolate, the reason for this is that higher quality chocolate will always give your cakes and sweets (6) better/ a better taste. To judge the quality of chocolate, look at the amount of cocoa in the chocolate. Good quality chocolate has more cocoa solids and (7) less sugar/ fewer sugars. For the best taste choose chocolate with a high cocoa (8) contents/ content – never (9) fewer than/less than TO per cent cocoa solids and as much as 80 per cent if possible. It goes without saying that you should also use other (10) ingredient/ ingredients of the highest quality, too. If, for example, you’re using coffee in your chocolate recipe, always use (11) a strong, fresh coffee /strong, fresh coffee. If you’re making (12) a cake/cake. Use the right kind of (13) flours/ flour, and always weigh the ingredients on your kitchen (14) scale/ scales. Believe me. if you follow these simple rules, the next time you bake a chocolate cake, there won’t be (15) a lump/ a slice left over!

Q 3.

Read this draft of a newspaper article, then complete the rewritten sections of the article below with a noun or noun phrase. The first one is given as an example (0).

St Andrew’s Hospital Trust has recently confirmed that a fresh wave of flood positioning has broken out in the Scottish resort, and this is alarmed everyone who lives in the town. A spokesperson stated that the illness was not serious and could be easily treated. This appeased community leaders but they requested further reassurances that the authorities were doing everything within their control to contain the spread. The hospital authority has announced that it will investigate fully the causes of this epidemic. As a recent investigation into a similar outbreak concluded that the cause was poor meat hygiene in a local butcher’s shop, local shopkeepers are concerned about what will come out of the pending investigation. The leader of the Shopkeepers’ Association, Len Murphy, suggested that the source of epidemic might be hospital kitchens, which has angered hospital staff. The kitchen staff at the hospital have now called for a strike of hospital auxiliaries across the region, which is likely to have severe financial consequences for the health authority.

(0)…… by St Andrew’s Hospital Trust of (1)……… of food poisoning in the Scottish resort has alarmed (2) ……….  A (3) ……….. that the illness was not serious and could be easily treated appeased community leaders, but they requested further reassurances that the authorities were doing everything within their control to contain the spread. The hospital authority has announced (4) ……….. into the causes of this epidemic. As (5) ……….. of a recent investigation into a similar outbreak cited poor meat hygiene in a local butcher’s shop as the cause, local shopkeepers are concerned about (6) ……….. of the pending inquiry. (7) ……….. by the leader of the Shopkeepers’ Association, Len Murphy, that the source of the epidemic might be hospital kitchens has angered hospital staff. (8) ………. by kitchen staff at the hospital for a strike of hospital auxiliaries across the region is likely to have severe financial consequences for the health authority.

Q 4.

Find fifteen more mistakes, or places where the style could be improved, in this text. Underline the mistakes and correct them. The exercise begins with two examples.

Snow Falling on Cedars

by David Guterson

1          Snow Falling on Cedars open in the courthouse of San Piedro, a small sleepy => opens

2          island off the Pacific coast of the north-west United States. Underneath the

3          courtroom windows, four tall narrow archs of a leaded glass, a drama which will

=> arches

4          divide the island’s communitys are unfolding. The defendant stands erect in the

5          dock: the local press and the jurors – farmers, grocers, builders, fisher wifes

6          – await the start of this trial. Kabuo Miyamoto is accused of the murder of Carl

7          Heine, a young fisherman. The alleged crime by a young man of Japanese

8          descent stirs up the emotions of the islanders and questions their believes and

9          their politic. It takes place in the 1950’s, and not many years has passed since the

10        Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour and the horrors of World War II. Although

11        the Japanese on San Piedro was eager to defend their adopted country against the

12        country of their ancestors, some people in the community were unable to forgive

13        Japan its role in the War. and the trial causes their deeply-held prejudicies to

14        surface.

15        Snow Falling on Cedars is not only one of the best mysterys of recent years,

16        but it raises issues which affects us all. However, it ends with a great optimism.

17        David Guterson has succeeded in combining the best from both classic and

18        populist American literatures into a spellbinding art. Buy and read this beautiful

19        novel.

Q 5.

Fill the gaps in these sentences with a, an, nothing (-) or the correct form of a suitable verb. If there are two possible answers, put both possibilities.

  1. Have you put………..pepper in this dish? I like plenty of seasoning.
  2. What he’d really like us to buy him for his birthday ………..some new Nike trainers.
  3. Rickets a ………..disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D.
  4. I first felt the desire to visit Venice when looking at ………..painting by Canaletto.
  5. You can’t hold a classical concert in the village hall; the acoustics ………..terrible!
  6. A large number of police officers ……….. present at the demonstration last week in case of trouble.
  7. At present 10,000 kilometres ………..t he longest walking competition held in the Olympics.
  8. ‘What have we got for supper?’ ‘Salmon. I got ……….. huge fish at the fishmonger’s for only five pounds.’
  9. Either the twins or John, the eldest brother, ……….. going to make a speech at the Golden Wedding party.
  10. My brother thinks that economics ……….. really interesting. I disagree.
  11. Saudi Arabia, along with most of the oil-producing nations, ……….. voted to raise the price of crude oil again.
  12. That band ……….. always had a reputation for performing better in the studio than live.
  13. Both my brother and sister ……….. lived in this town all their lives.
  14. We developed ……….. passion for Baroque music at university.
  15. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding ……….. definitely still the favourite of many British people!

Q 6.

Finish each of the following sentences in such a way that it is as similar as possible in meaning to the sentence printed before it. The exercise begins with an example (0).

0          The drama school is always looking out for new talent.

The drama school is always on …….the lookout for new talent……….

1          I heard some fascinating news on the radio this morning.

I heard a fascinating ………………………………………..

2          The police used handcuffs to restrain the aggressive young man.

Handcuffs ………………………………………..

3          A few roads in the Brighton area have been affected by the recent floods.

A small number ………………………………………..

4          OK. I’ll call the bank tomorrow and check our balance.

  1. I’ll give ………………………………………..

5          The medical profession considers that children eat too many sweet and fatty things today.

The medical profession considers that children should ………………………………………..

6          It didn’t take us ten minutes to get here from the station.

It took us ………………………………………..

7          A lot of people have taken up our new offer, which has delighted us.

We have been delighted by the ………………………………………..

8          We’ve got quite a lot of unwanted furniture since we moved to the smaller house.

We’ve got several ………………………………………..

9          The management expects all staff to attend the meeting tomorrow afternoon.

All staff ………………………………………..

10        They should now address the questions of VAT and fuel tax.

What ………………………………………..

11        A lot of the older men sit in cafes and play dominoes.

Dominoes ………………………………………..

12        We launched the new women’s magazine in April and it was a great success.

The ………………………………………..

13        In a democracy the government is elected by the people.

In a democracy the people ………………………………………..

14        The teachers were boosted by the fact that the parents agreed to help fund the new playground.

The teachers were boosted by the parents’ ………………………………………..


1          ✓

2          pianos

3          phenomena

4          MPs

5          kitchen scales

6          advice

7          fewer (less is possible only in informal English)

8          a stone

9          ✓ 25.3C

10        ✓

11        has

12        is

13        was

14        it’s

15        is

16        ✓

17        ✓

18        a shout

19        The attack on the Minister was

20        outbreak


Q 1.

Across: 1 quays 5 chair 6 medium 7 wharf  10 formulae  12 hero  15 monarchs 16 mosquitoes

Down: 2 sheriffs 3 manager 4 quizzes 8 addresses 9 flamingos 11 geese  13 crises 14 oasis

Q 2.

1 information

2 chocolate

3 advice is

4 wine

5 an equivalent quality

6 a better

7 less sugar

8 content

9 less than

10 ingredients

11 strong, fresh coffee

12 a cake

13 flour

14 scales

15 a slice


Q 3.

1 an outbreak

2 the town’s population/the townspeople/ the town’s residents

3 A spokesperson’s statement

4 a full investigation

5 the conclusion

6 the outcome

7 The suggestion/ A suggestion

8 The call

Q 4.

Line 3 a leaded glass ==> leaded glass

Line 4 communitys ==> communities

Line 4 are unfolding ==> is unfolding

Line 5 fisher-wiles ==> fisher wives

Line 8 believes ==> beliefs

Line 9 politic ==> politics

Line 9 1950’s ==> 1950s

Line 9 has passed ==> have passed

Line 11 was eager ==> were eager

Line 13 prejudicies ==> prejudices

Line 15 mysterys ==> mysteries

Line 16 which affects ==> which affect

Line 16 a great optimism ==> great optimism

Line 18 literatures ==> literature

Line 18 a spellbinding art ==> a spellbinding work of art

Q 5.

1-2 are/is

3 is/was

4 a

5 are

6 were

7 is

8 a

9 is

10 is

11 has

12 has/have

13 have

14 a

15 is

Q 6.

  1. item/piece of news on the radio this morning.
  2. were used to restrain the aggressive young man.
  3. of roads in the Brighton area were affected by the recent floods.
  4. the bank a call tomorrow and check our balance.
  5. eat fewer sweet and fatty things.
  6. less than ten minutes to get here from the station.
  7. uptake of our new offer.
  8. items/pieces of unwanted furniture since we moved to the smaller house.
  9. are expected to attend the meeting tomorrow afternoon.
  10. they should now address are/is the questions of VAT and fuel tax.
  11. is played by a lot of the older men in cafés.
  12. launch of the new women’s magazine in April was a great success.
  13. elect the government.
  14. agreement to help fund the new playground.

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