A multiple choice question on articles had this sentence:

  1. Don't make __ noise.
    A. a.
    B. the.
    C. no article
    The correct answer as per the book is - A (a noise).
    I have been using 'noise' (no article) without any issue. Now having someone tell me it's wrong is shocking.
    How can 'noise' an uncountable noun have an article ?
    Who is wrong? - I or the book?

Ref. Cambridge dictionary meaning.
noise noun [ C/U ].
(a) sound, esp. when it is unwanted, unpleasant, or loud:
[ U ] I heard background noise on the phone line.

  • 4
    First of all, noise is not necessarily uncountable. As I walked through the park I heard three noises: the ducks quacking, the children laughing, and the wind stirring the trees. Commented Jul 2 at 4:03
  • 3
    Your reference from the Cambridge dictionary shows that noise can be either countable or uncountable [ C/U ].
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jul 3 at 0:54
  • how about D. Any
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jul 4 at 14:35
  • @RabbiKaii Any is not an article. Otherwise it is also correct. Commented Jul 4 at 14:41

3 Answers 3


You are not wrong, but neither is the book. Noise can be countable or uncountable.

Uncountable Noise

In many instances, noise is used as an uncountable noun. It refers to any sound as a broad category, not a specific instance. Here are some examples:

  • I hate living on a busy street, the noise from the traffic is too loud.
  • There is always so much noise in a school.
  • Who is making that awful noise?

Let's use the last one as an example "Who is making that awful noise?" - we can imagine that this is said to a group of people, one of whom is perhaps repeatedly squeaking their chair against the floor, humming off key, or some other annoying behavior. It isn't just that they did it once, but that it has been repeated which makes it an uncountable noise. The individual (countable) noises blend together and become uncountable.

Countable Noise

In some instances though, noise can be countable. Then, it often refers to a specific instance of a sound, that probably had a start and a stop.

Alternatively, noise types can be counted, so using a noise could mean that one specific sound is being repeated, but is not varying in type. Here are some examples of both of these:

  • I heard a noise and ran to the window. (one instance)
  • My puppy makes a noise when she wants my attention. (either one bark or one specific type of bark repeated)
  • Can you hear that strange clicking noise? (one type)
  • There are several unexpected noises coming from my engine (multiple types)

Your Example

In your example, there is a slight change of meaning. "Don't make noise" is the same as saying "be quiet". It means "be careful not to make too much noise" but doesn't specify what "too much" is. Depending on context this might mean "keep your body silent" or it might mean "don't talk," or even "don't talk loudly" but without that context it isn't clear. This is idiomatic and correct.

On the other hand, "Don't make a noise" means "don't make a single noise." It clarifies that what the speaker wants is absolute silence. This is also correct but would be more commonly heard as "Don't make a sound." which means the same thing.

  • 3
    While not wrong as such, I don't think a native speaker would be likely to say “Don't make noise”; they'd either specify the type/amount of noise (e.g. “Don't make so much noise” or “Don't make any noise” or “Don't make that squeaking noise”), or instead say something like “Keep the noise down” or “Keep quiet” or or “Stop speaking” or “Could you keep it down a bit, please?” or even “Shut up!”.
    – gidds
    Commented Jul 3 at 12:07
  • To my ear “sound” sounds more natural in place of “noise” in all of your countable examples.
    – bob
    Commented Jul 3 at 13:28

In this case the book is wrong, or at the very least the question is a poor one. All three could be correct, given the right circumstances.

The options:

A. Don't make a noise.

This could be used to mean, "be very quiet," but more commonly you'd say, "Don't make a sound," or just "Be very quiet." It is grammatical though.

B. Don't make the noise.

This feels least likely to come up (unless you've had children). You might say this if you were referring to a specific sound that you didn't want someone to (re)produce. Suppose your friend John has discovered that when he twists his wrist in a particular way, it makes a disturbingly biological scraping and popping sound. He's excited to show his new discovery to a third friend, but you find it disgusting. You might say something like, "John, don't make the noise - it makes me feel sick to my stomach."

C. Don't make noise.

This is grammatical, and (in my AmE estimation) most likely to actually be used in normal speech or writing. From comments, it would seem that there are a number of ways that this might be used that I hadn't considered when writing my original answer. A) You might be telling someone to stop (or not start) making unnecessary sound. It is the usual uncountable version of the word. Other frequently used versions of this request might be, "be quiet," or, "Don't be noisy." B) You might be advising someone to avoid noise (ex: children sneaking a snack late at night). C) You could be commanding someone not to make noise as a rule in general. It turns out to be a more flexible sentence than originally suggested - I would be completely unsurprised if there were other ways it could be used.

  • 1
    Explanation and example given for 'the' is correct. 'The' can be used for all nouns if that noun is repeated but it is not considered as a correct answer. General Rules: Use “the” with any noun when the meaning is specific; for example, when the noun names the only one (or one) of a kind. Adam was the first man Commented Jul 2 at 6:48
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    In my (Aus) experience don't make the sound is much less common than don't make that sound. Also don't make sound is much less common than don't make any sound.
    – Peter
    Commented Jul 2 at 14:32
  • 1
    @Peter I agree, and I likely wouldn't say the sentence "Don't make the noise," in the first place. But honestly, I'd almost never say any of these sentences (AmE). I would probably use "that" instead of "the" as well. Commented Jul 2 at 15:34
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    "Don't make noise" can also be general advice or a commandment, like "Don't commit murder."
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 2 at 17:15
  • 1
    In my (US) mind, "don't make noise" would colloquially mean to not upset the status quo, like "don't make waves" or "don't rock the boat".
    – Abion47
    Commented Jul 3 at 20:11

As a native speaker of British English, I'd be more likely to say "don't make any noise" or "don't make a sound" than any of these options. Of the choices you have, "a noise" might just be more likely than just "noise".

It's not a very good question.

It would even be possible to make the sentence work with "the": "You know the noise you make when you're scared? It really bothers me. Don't make the noise." (though "that" is preferable here).

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