Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Nouns in English can be countable or uncountable. It is important to know whether a noun is countable or uncountable as we use different words with countables and uncountables.

Countable and uncountable nouns
via https://www.kidsworldfun.com/learn-english/countable-and-uncountable-nouns.php

Countable nouns

Countable nouns are those that refer to something that can be counted.

  • one car, two cars, three cars…

Examples of countable nouns include:

  • accident, banana, couch, dream, neighbourhood.

Singular and plural

Countable nouns can be singular and plural:

singularplural
accidentaccidents
bananabananas
couchcouches
dreamdreams
neighbourhoodneighbourhoods

Note that singular verbs are used with singular countable nouns, while plural verbs are used with plural countable nouns.

  • Your book is on the kitchen table.
  • How many candles are on that birthday cake?

Determiners

Countable nouns can be used with articles such as a/an and the, numbers or quantifiers such as a few, a lot and many.

We can use ‘a’ and ‘an’ with singular countable nouns:

  • an accident, a banana, a couch, a dream, a neighbourhood.

We can use ‘some’ with plural countable nouns:

  • I’d like some bananas, please.
  • She’s got two sisters and a younger brother.

Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns are are seen as a whole or mass. They cannot be separated or counted and come in a state or quantity that is impossible to count:

  • one air, two airs, three airs…

Examples of uncountable nouns include:

– ideas and experiences: advice, information, progress, news, luck, fun, work
– materials and substances: water, rice, cement, gold, milk
– food and drinks: juice, wine, meat, rice, bread, cheese, coffee
– weather words: weather, thunder, lightning, rain, snow
– names for groups or collections of things: furniture, equipment, rubbish, luggage
abstract nounshomework, knowledge, money, permission, research, traffic, travel

Uncountable nouns are always considered to be singular. They have no plural. The verb form is singular and we can use some.

  • Put some sugar.
  • How much wine is there?
  • NOT: advices, informations, moneys, musics, waters.

Determiners

Since countable nouns have no plural, we can’t use ‘a’ and ‘an’ with them:

  • an advice, an information, a money, a music, a water.

Uncountable nouns can stand alone or be used with determiners (e.g. my, hersome, anynothe, this, that) and expressions of quantity (e.g. a lot of, (a) little, some, much):

  • She’s been studying hard and has made a lot of progress.
  • This coffee is a bit old, I’m afraid.
  • I’d like some water, please.
  • There is a lot of snow on the road.
  • They gave me some information about the courses.

Quantity expressions

Uncountable nouns can be paired with words expressing plural concept. These are words and phrases like ‘a glass of’, ‘a bottle of’ or ‘a piece of’ or words for containers and measures. We cannot say ‘an information’ or ‘a music’. But we can say a ‘something’ of:

  • Try to drink at least eight glasses of water each day.
  • I’d like a glass of water, please.
  • We bought two bottles of wine.
  • This is a beautiful piece of music.
  • I bought you a bar of chocolate.

Sometimes uncountable nouns are used as countable, to mean ‘a measure of something’ or ‘a type of something’:

  • Can I have two teas and one coffee, please? (two cups of tea and one cup of coffee …?)
  • There are some juices on the table. (different types of juice)

Nouns that can be countable and uncountable

Sometimes, the same noun can be countable and uncountable, often with a change of meaning.

Consider the following examples:

  • Our house has seven rooms. – Is there room for me to sit here? (‘rooms’ vs ‘space’)
  • Have you got a paper to read? – I want to write a letter. Have you got some paper? (‘magazine’ vs ‘paper’)
  • There are four lights in our bedroom. – Close the curtain. There’s too much light! (‘lamps’ vs ‘light’)

How to use countable and uncountable nouns

Countable nouns

1. In positive sentences, we use:

[a / an + singular countable noun]

[some + plural countable noun]

  • There is a cat in the garden.
  • There are some birds in the trees.

2. In negative sentences, we use:

[a / an + singular countable noun]

[any + plural countable noun]

  • There isn’t a dog in the garden.
  • There aren’t any birds in the tree.

More examples:

To make pancakes…

  • … you need a frying pan.
  • … you don’t need an electric mixer.
  • … you need some plates.  
  • … you don’t need any chopsticks.

3. In questions, we use a/an, any and how many:

  • Is there an apple on the tree?
  • Are there any chairs in the garden?
  • How many books are there?

Uncountable nouns

1. In positive sentences, we use:

[some + uncountable noun]

  • I need some sugar in my coffee.
  • There is some milk on the floor.

2. In negative sentences, we use:

[any + uncountable noun]

Some more examples:

In addition…

  • … you need some flour.
  • … you need some milk.
  • … you don’t need any rice.
  • … you don’t need any bread.

3. In questions, we use any and how much:

  • Is there any sugar?
  • How much wine is there?

We use:

[How many + plural countable noun]

[How much + uncountable noun]

  • How many eggs are there? – Six.
  • How many plates are there? – Four.
  • How much milk is there? – A litre.
  • How much flour is there? – 500g.

Let’s summarize:

Countable and uncountable nouns
https://slideplayer.com/slide/4115666/

Note the verb forms:

  • There is a frying pan. (singular noun)
  • There aren’t any eggs. (plural noun)
  • There is some milk. (uncountable noun)
  • There isn’t any flour. (uncountable noun)

Here’s a good video from mmmEmglish explaining what countable and uncountable nouns are and how they are used:

See also:

Abstract and Concrete Nouns

Plural and Singular Nouns

Pronouns and Determiners: Quantifiers

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