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A noun can be countable or uncountable. Countable nouns can be "counted", they have a singular and plural form .

For example:

  • 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.

For example:

  • Water
  • Work
  • Information
  • Coffee
  • Sand
Countable
(use a/an or a number in front of countable nouns)
Uncountable
(there is no a/an or number with uncountable nouns)
An Apple / 1 Apple Rice
I eat an apple every day. I eat rice every day. (not I eat a rice every day.)
Add (s) to make a countable noun plural There is no plural form for an uncountable noun
apples rice
I eat an apple every day. Apples are good for you. I eat rice every day. Rice is good for you.
A computer= Computers are fun. To make uncountable nouns countable add a counting word, such as a unit of 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 countable nouns.
Some dogs can be dangerous.
I don't use any computers at work.
You can use some and any with uncountable nouns.
I usually drink some wine with my meal.
I don't usually drink any water with my wine.
You only use many and few with plural countable nouns.
So many elephants have been hunted that they are an endangered species.
There are few elephants in England.
You only use much and little with uncountable nouns.
I don't usually drink much coffee.
Little wine is undrinkable though.
You can use a lot of and no with plural countable nouns.
No computers were bought last week.
A lot of computers were reported broken the week before.
You can use a lot of and no with uncountable nouns.
A lot of wine is drunk in France.
No wine is drunk in Iran.

 

Some mass nouns refer to groups of specific things.

For example:-

Tables, chairs, cupboards etc. are grouped under the mass noun furniture.
Plates, saucers, cups and bowls are grouped under the mass noun crockery.
Knives, forks, spoons etc. are grouped under the collective noun cutlery.
When you are travelling suitcases, bags etc. are grouped under the mass noun luggage / baggage.

Making uncountable nouns countable

You can make most uncountable noun countable by putting a countable expression in front of the noun.

For example:-

  • 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 object).

For example:-

glass - Two glasses of water. (Countable) | A window made of glass. (Uncountable) | glasses - I wear glasses. (Always plural)

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].

Countable / Uncountable Lesson

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