Understanding abstract nouns and articles for Level B2

Understanding abstract nouns and articles for Level B2Understanding abstract nouns and articles for Level B2. So far in our site, we have looked at 18 rules for using articles (that’s A, AN, THE or no article):

In this lesson we will look at some final rules for using articles – this time, we will be looking at articles with abstract nouns. First of all, let’s take a quick look at what abstract nouns are.

An abstract noun is something that does not physically exist – you can’t touch it or see it. It is an idea, quality or state – not a concrete object.

In the table below are some examples of concrete and abstract nouns.

Concrete nouns

  • Ball
  • Dog
  • Citizen
  • Wine
  • Flour
  • Device
  • Keyboard
Abstract nouns

  • Love
  • Honesty
  • Knowledge
  • Education
  • Friendship
  • Truth
  • Danger

Abstract nouns can be countable and uncountable (and very often both, depending on the situation). For example:

Uncountable abstract noun: Many people focus too much on beauty rather than personality.

Countable abstract nouns: She is such a beauty but she doesn’t have a great personality.

So what are the rules with using articles with abstract nouns? Well, this is where it can get quite complex, and (like most things in English), there are exceptions.

Rule #1: Abstract nouns that are not qualified (that is, when you are talking in general) and are uncountable use no article. For example:

  • Love can make people do strange things!
  • The love  can make people do strange things!

Rule #2: Abstract nouns that are qualified (that is, when you explain more about the specific situation)  and are uncountable often use the definite article (the). For example:

  • The love that she has for dogs is amazing! (specifically the love for dogs)
  • The happiness people feel on their wedding day doesn’t often last. (specifically the happiness on the wedding day)
  • What is the truth about secret government conspiracies? (specifically a specific truth)
  • What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow (specifically the weather tomorrow)

Rule #3: Abstract nouns that are qualified (that is, when you explain more about the specific situation)  but can be considered as ‘one of many’ often use the indefinite article (a/an). For example:

  • My birthday party turned out to be a disappointment. (it is qualified – ‘My birthday party’; disappointment is an abstract noun; it can be considered as ‘one of many disappointments’))

Rule #4: For every rule in English, you will find exceptions. The best advice is to read widely and learn in the same way we did for our first language – by repetition and copying. Most English speakers do not understand the rules of why we construct sentences a certain way – we just repeat what we have heard. For that reason, we’ll finish this lesson with a list of abstract nouns used with articles.

More examples of abstract nouns and articles:

  • Knowledge is just as important as strength. (generally talking about knowledge which is not specifically qualified)
  • The knowledge he gained from working as a young man was essential for his later life. (the specific knowledge he gained)
  • She has a good knowledge of French. (one of many pieces of knowledge)
  • It is very important to have belief in yourself. (a general feeling of belief)
  • He didn’t agree with the belief that people are naturally unkind. (a specific belief that people are naturally unkind)
  • Some cultures have a belief in eternal life. (one of many beliefs)
  • History has never really interested me. (history in general)
  • She really enjoyed learning about the history of the island. (a specific history of the island)
  • A history of the twentieth century. (one of many different histories)
  • Charity is important to help people others. (charity in general)
  • The charity has raised over £10,000 (a specific charity)
  • A charity should always be honest and transparent (one of many charities – doesn’t matter which one)

Ready to test your skills? Take a look at this quick exercise and see what score you can reach!