Countable and uncountable nouns
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Countable and uncountable nouns: rules + examples
Countable nouns are people, places, animals or things that we can count. We can use the indefinite article a/an with countable nouns in singular forms: A bee is an insect.
Plural forms of countable nouns can be regular (a car - cars, boy - boys, baby - babies) or irregular (woman - women, wolf - wolves, datum - data).
More examples: a girl - two girls, a lion - two lions, a book - two books, a man - three men, a sheep - five sheep
Uncountable nouns (or mass nouns) are substances, abstract ideas, qualities and other things that we cannot count. We cannot usually use the indefinite article a/an with uncountable nouns: I need money.
air, bread, butter, dust, fire, flour, fuel, gold, ice, jam, juice, milk, oil, oxygen, petrol, rice, salt, sand, smoke, snow, soap, sugar, water, wheat...
advice, aid, anger, art, beauty, cash, chaos, courage, damage, death, evidence, freedom, fun, happiness, health, help, horror, information, kindness, knowledge, love, motivation, pity, relief, safety, wealth, wisdom...
baggage, camping, cash, clothing, electricity, energy, food, furniture, literature, litter, luggage, money, nature, news, parking, rubbish, shopping, sunshine, traffic, weather...
Nouns that are both countable and uncountable
Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable, but they have a different meaning.
beer = kind of drink, beers = glasses of beer
chicken = kind of meat, chickens = animals
chocolate = kind of food, chocolates = small sweets in a box of chocolates
coffee = kind of drink, coffees = cups of coffee
experience = kind of knowledge, experiences = things that happen to you
glass = material, glasses = cups
hair = hair on your head, hairs = animal hairs
light = brightness from the sun, lights = electric lamps or bulbs
paper = material, papers = newspapers
people = human beings, peoples = nations or ethnic groups
room = space, rooms = living room, bedroom, etc.
wood = material, woods = forest
work = job, works = factory
Some abstract nouns can be used with a/an in special cases. Compare:
I need help. - You are always a great help to me.
- knowledge, love, hatred, dread, horror, etc. + of
The internet provides access to all universal knowledge. - A good knowledge of English is essential.
Is it love or hatred? - How to foster a love of music in children?
- pity, shame, wonder, etc.
I don't want pity, I need support. - What a pity. It's a pity that you can't come.
Some abstract nouns can be used in plural with that-clauses introduced by there.
- fear, hope, suspicion, etc.
There are fears that global warming will continue.
How to make uncountable nouns countable
We combine special words (piece words) with uncountable nouns to make them countable.
I have two pieces of information for you.
We'll need three sheets of paper.
How many slices of bread do you have for breakfast?
Add two spoonfuls of sugar.
I'd like three jars of jam.
a bit of fun, luck, time, work, paper, information, bread, money, news, gossip
a piece of paper, software, information, work, writing, furniture, wood, equipment, music, cloth, land
an item of clothing, equipment, furniture, food, information, interest, business, jewellery, news
a sheet of paper,ice, glass
a carton of milk, juice, yoghurt
a glass of milk, beer, wine
a cup of tea, coffee
a slice of bread, cheese, cake
a loaf of bread, cheese, meat
a bar of chocolate, soap
a spoonful of sugar, flour, salt
a pinch of salt, cinnamon, humour
a jar of jam, honey, beer, mayonnaise
Little / few, a little / a few, much / many
We use little, a little and much with singular uncountable nouns to express quantity.
We use few, a few and many with plural countable nouns to express quantity.
- Little / few
We had very little information about the hotel. (= not much information)
We learned very few facts about the hotel. (= not many facts)
- A little / a few
I can help you. I have a little time now. (= some time)
I can help you. I have a few hours to spare. (= several hours)
Little and few have negative meanings. They mean 'not as much or not as many as I expected'.
A little and a few have positive meanings. They mean 'better than nothing'.
I have little money and few friends. (= I feel unhappy. I want more money and friends.)
I have a little money and a few friends. (= I feel happier. I have some money and several friends.)
- Much / many
My brother won much money with a lottery ticket. (= a lot of money)
My brother bought many lotery tickets. (= a lot of tickets)
A lot of, some, hardly any
These quantifiers can be used with countable and uncountable nouns in affirmative sentences. They are more informal than the quantifiers mentioned above.
- A lot of (lots of, plenty of)
We can use a lot of, lots of or plenty of instead of much, many.
We had a lot of fun (much fun) at the party. (uncountable)
We had a lot of drinks (many drinks) at the party. (countable)
We can use some instead of a little and a few.
I would like some more coffee (a little more coffee). (uncountable)
I would like some more bisquits (a few more bisquits). (countable)
- Hardly any
We can use hardly any instead of little and few.
Samantha has hardly any (little) experience with programming. (uncountable)
George has hardly any (few) problems with programming. (countable)
English nouns Countable and uncountable nouns, singular and plural nouns, group nouns, compound nouns and proper nouns.
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