s and information s
Have you ever noticed strange codes in square brackets on entries in Cambridge Dictionaries Online and wondered what they mean? These are grammar codes, giving you a brief summary of how that word behaves grammatically. More information can be obtained by hovering your cursor over the code, and there’s a full page of them here, but we thought we’d look at some in more detail.
[U] is for uncountable – uncountable nouns do not have a plural form, and are never preceded by ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘one’. Examples of uncountable nouns are butter, ice, jewellery, magic.
The final code is [S] for singular – these nouns behave like countable nouns, but are never used in the plural form, for example the Internet.
Learners of English often have trouble remembering which nouns can be made plural and which cannot. From our research in the Cambridge Learner Corpus – a vast database of learners’ exams compiled over the last 20 years – we can identify not only which words learners most frequently get wrong in this regard, but also the languages whose native speakers most commonly tend to make these mistakes.
So which words are the hardest to get right? Well, first of all, it turns out that there are far more mistakes made where an uncountable noun is made plural than the other way around, which is probably hardly surprising. Information is by far the most problematic word in this regard, with advice second. There’s a list of the 20 most common errors here, but we thought it would be far more interesting to see the full range as an interactive graphic – follow this link or the image at the top of the page.
We’ve also created an interactive infographic to show exactly how different language learners make these mistakes – again, click through on the image to explore further:
He bought a very expensive piece of furniture for his new apartment.
Can I give you a bit of advice?
They gave me some information about courses and scholarships and things.
For more information on countability, see this page from English Grammar Today.