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For instance, you can correctly say "I want bread." That isn't wrong the same way "I want phone" is wrong. This seems to apply to most foods, but I can't figure out what the rule is.

I want fish.
I want water.
I want coffee.
I want meat.

I guess these are categories, rather than specific things? Similarly you could say I want red if picking a color for a wall.

I'm not sure what the rule is for someone learning English, how would they know which words this applied to? I also don't know the term for such words, making it hard to look up.

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    look up count and noncount nouns. Here for example, leo.stcloudstate.edu/grammar/countnon.html it 'l lgive you the rules on when to use an article or not. – P. O. Dec 4 '15 at 17:00
  • They may also be known as mass nouns. But note that when referring to discrete portions of something, or to varieties or examples of it, most any non-count noun can be used as a count noun. I want coffee and I want a coffee can both be legitimate, and do not necessarily mean the same thing. – choster Dec 4 '15 at 18:42
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They are called uncountable nouns

(First Google result) https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/nouns-countable-un.htm

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A little child might say "I want fish", an adult person would say I would like some fish. The first formulation sounds very unpolished. I don't know but I assume you don't use articles in your mother tongue. And I come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to give rules that would allow idiomatic use of articles. I think only a long period of training can do that, but only to a certain degree. But I wouldn't focus on this grammar point too much. There are more important things in English grammar. No one will frown upon a learner when his or her use of articles isn't absolutely correct.

The only advice I can give when a learner finds article use he doesn't understand, consult the noun in a dictionary as Oald or Collins etc, see whether they label the noun as countable or uncountable or countable and uncountable and study the examples given in that entry.

By the way, there are over 8000 posts tagged article.

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