COUNTABLE AND UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS
A noun can be countable or uncountable. Countable nouns can be "counted", they have a
singular and plural form .
A book, two books, three books .....
An apple, two apples, three apples ....
Uncountable nouns (also called mass nouns or noncount nouns) cannot be counted, they are
not seperate objects. This means you cannot make them plural by adding -s, because they only
have a singular form. It also means that they do not take a/an or a number in front of them.
(use a/an or a number in front of (there is no a/an or number with
countable nouns) uncountable nouns)
An Apple / 1 Apple Rice
I eat rice every day. (not I eat a rice every
I eat an apple every day.
Add (s) to make a countable noun There is no plural form for an
plural uncountable noun
I eat an apple every day. Apples
I eat rice every day. Rice is good for you.
are good for you.
To make uncountable nouns countable
add a counting word, such as a unit of
A computer= Computers are fun.
measurement, or the general word piece.
We use the form "a ....... of ......."
An elephant=Elephants are large. Rice=a grain of rice
Water=a glass of water
Rain=a drop of rain
Music=a piece of music
You can use some and any with You can use some and any with
countable nouns. uncountable nouns.
Some dogs can be dangerous. I usually drink some wine with my meal.
I don't use any computers at work. I don't usually drink any water with my
You only use many and few with plural
You only use much and little with
So many elephants have been hunted that
I don't usually drink much coffee.
they are an endangered species.
Little wine is undrinkable though.
There are few elephants in England.
You can use a lot of and no with plural You can use a lot of and no with
countable nouns. uncountable nouns.
No computers were bought last week. A lot of wine is drunk in France.
A lot of computers were reported broken No wine is drunk in Iran.
the week before.
Making uncountable nouns countable
You can make most uncountable noun countable by putting a countable expression in front of
A piece of information.
2 glasses of water.
10 litres of coffee.
Three grains of sand.
A pane of glass.
Sources of confusion with countable and uncountable nouns
The notion of countable and uncountable can be confusing.
Some nouns can be countable or uncountable depending on their meaning. Usually a noun is
uncountable when used in a general, abstract meaning (when you don't think of it as a separate
object) and countable when used in a particular meaning (when you can think of it as a separate
glass - A glass of water. (Countable) | A window made of glass. (Uncountable)
Some supposedly uncountable nouns can behave like countable nouns if we think of them as
being in containers, or one of several types.
This is because 'containers' and 'types' can be counted.
Believe it or not each of these sentences is correct:-
Doctors recommend limiting consumption to two coffees a day.
(Here coffees refers to the number of cups of coffee)
You could write; "Doctors recommend limiting consumption to two cups of coffee a day."
The coffees I prefer are Arabica and Brazilian.
(Here coffees refers to different types of coffee)
You could write; "The types of coffee I prefer are Arabica and Brazilian."
!Note - In good monolingual dictionaries, uncountable nouns are identified by [U] and countable
nouns by [C].
Some uncountable nouns in English are countable in other languages. This can be confusing!
Here is a list of some of the most common, easy to confuse uncountable nouns.
Obviously, uncountable nouns (especially different types of food) have forms that express plural
concepts. These measurements or containers are countable:
water - a glass of water
equipment - a piece of equipment
cheese - a slice of cheese
Here are some of the most common containers / quantity expressions for these uncountable
accommodation - a place to stay
advice - a piece of advice
baggage - a piece of baggage
bread - a slice of bread, a loaf of bread
equipment - a piece of equipment
furniture - a piece of furniture
garbage - a piece of garbage
information - a piece of information
knowledge - a fact
luggage - a piece of luggage, a bag, a suitcase
money - a note, a coin
news - a piece of news
pasta - a plate of pasta, a serving of pasta
research - a piece of research, a research project
travel - a journey, a trip
work - a job, a position
an article/item of clothing una prenda de vestir
a blade of grass una hoja de hierba/césped
a block of cement un bloque de cemento
a breath of fresh air un soplo de aire fresco
a clap of thunder un trueno
a cloud of dust una polvareda
a cloud of smoke una humareda
a crust of bread una corteza
a dash of pepper una pizca de pimienta
a fit of rage/temper un arranque de ira
a flash of lightning un relámpago
a grain of rice un grano de arroz
a gust of wind una ráfaga de viento
a head of hair una cabellera
an item/piece of news una noticia
a jet of water un chorro de agua
a loaf of bread una barra de pan
a lock of hair un mechón de pelo
a lump of coal un carbón
a lump of sugar un terrón de azúcar
a means of transport un medio de transporte
a pat of butter una porción de manteca
a piece of information un dato
a piece of advice un consejo
a piece of furniture un mueble
a piece of luggage una maleta
a piece of music una pieza musical
a pile of earth una pila de tierra
a slice of meat una tajada de carne
a spell of hot weather una ola de calor
a spot of rain una gota de lluvia
a stroke of luck un golpe de suerte
Here are some more common uncountable food types with their container / quantity
liquids (water, beer, wine, etc.) - a glass, a bottle, a jug of water, etc.
cheese - a slice, a chunk, a piece of cheese
meat - a piece, a slice, a pound of meat
butter - a bar of butter
ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard - a bottle of, a tube of ketchup, etc.
Some / Any / Much / Many
Some A little, a few or small number or amount.
We usually use some in positive sentences for countable and uncountable
I have some friends in London.
I usually drink some wine with my meal.
Sometimes we use some in a question, when we expect a positive YES answer.
Would you like some more tea?
Could I have some more sugar please?
Any One, small or all. It is used with negative sentences.
When asking questions and when a sentence is grammatically positive, but the
meaning of the sentence
Do you have any ice cream left for me?
My brother never does any chores.
We use any for both countable and uncountable nouns.
Do you have any cheese?
He doesn't have any friends in Paris.
Much It is used with uncountable nouns.
They don't have much money to buy a present.
Many It is used with countable nouns.
I don't have many English stamps in my collection.
Much and Many are used to express that there is a large quantity of something.
common problems with count/uncount nouns
1: Uncount nouns used as count nouns
Although substances are usually uncount nouns...
Would you like some cheese?
Coffee keeps me awake at night.
Wine makes me sleep.
... they can be also used as count nouns:
I’d like a coffee please. = I’d like a [cup of] coffee.
May I have a white wine. = May I have a [glass of] white wine.
They sell a lot of coffees. = They sell a lot of [different kinds of] coffee.
I prefer white wines to red. = I prefer [different kinds of] white wine to red.
They had over twenty cheeses on sale. = They had over twenty [types of] cheese on sale.
This is an excellent soft cheese. = This [kind of] soft cheese is excellent.
2: Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form:
We should always have hope.
George had hopes of promotion.
Travel is a great teacher.
Where did you go on your travels?
3: Nouns with two meanings
Some nouns have two meanings, one count and the other non count:
His life was in danger.
There is a serious danger of fire.
Linguistics is the study of language.
Is English a difficult language?
It’s made of paper.
The Times is an excellent paper.
Other words like this are:
business death industry marriage power property
tax time victory use work
4: Uncount nouns that end in -s
Some uncount nouns end in -s so they look like plurals even though they are singular nouns.
These nouns generally refer to:
Subjects of study: mathematics, physics, economics, etc.
Activities: gymnastics, athletics, etc.
Games: cards, darts, billiards, etc.
Diseases: mumps, measles, rabies, etc.
Economics is a very difficult subject.
Billiards is easier than pool or snooker.
5: Group nouns
Some nouns, like army, refer to groups of people, animals or things, and we can use
them either as singular nouns or as plural nouns.
army audience committee company crew enemy
family flock gang government group herd
media public regiment staff team
We can use these group nouns either as singular nouns or as plural nouns:
My family is very dear to me.
I have a large family. They are very dear to me. (= The members of my family…)
The government is very unpopular.
The government are always changing their minds.
Sometimes we think of the group as a single thing:
The audience always enjoys the show.
The group consists of two men and three women.
Sometimes we think of the group as several individuals;
The audience clapped their hands.
The largest group are the boys.
The names of many organisations and teams are also group nouns, but they are usually
plural in spoken English:
Barcelona are winning 2-0.
The United Oil Company are putting prices up by 12%.
6: Two-part nouns
A few plural nouns, like binoculars, refer to things that have two parts.
glasses jeans knickers pincers pants pliers
pyjamas scissors shorts spectacles tights trainers
These binoculars were very expensive
Those trousers are too long.
To make it clear we are talking about one of these items, we use a pair of …
I need a new pair of spectacles.
I’ve bought a pair of blue jeans.
If we want to talk about more than one, we use pairs of … :
We’ve got three pairs of scissors, but they are all blunt.
I always carry two pairs of binoculars.