Countable and Uncountable Nouns in English
In English, nouns can be either countable or uncountable. Countable nouns (also known as count nouns) are those nouns that bare reference to something that can be counted. These types of nouns have both singular and plural forms. For example, dog / dogs, man / men. In the singular form, they might be preceded by an a or an a. The majority of all nouns will fall into this category.
That being said, there is a smaller group of nouns that do not refer to elements that can be counted, and therefore, they do not typically have a plural form. These are known as uncountable or mass nouns. Examples of these include, rain, earth, flour, wood, wine. Uncountable nouns are not capable of being preceded by a or an. There are many abstract nouns that are considered to be uncountable. For example, happiness, darkness, truth, humor.
There are uncountable nouns that can be used in the plural form as well, depending on the menaing or the context of the word. Here are some examples worth looking at.
Would you like some juice?
Uncountable because it is referring to the drink in general.
He ordered juice.
Countable because it refers to a cup of juice.
There is no light in darkness.
Uncountable because it refers to the state of darkness.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns – Examples
Countable nouns reference the things that we are able to count or assign a number value to. They come in both singular and plural form. The singular form might have an a or an. If you need to determine the quantity of a countable noun, you need to ask yourself ‘how many’ combined with a plural noun.
|One cat||Two cats|
|One sheep||Two sheep|
|One woman||Two women|
|One book||Two books|
|One car||Two cars|
|One egg||Two eggs|
|One man||Two men|
- She has two cats
- I own a car.
- I would like two apples please.
- How many sisters do you have?
Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, are assigned to the things that we cannot count or quantify. This might include names of abstract concepts or qualities or physical objects that are two minute to be counted. For example, powders, liquids, gases, etc. Uncountable nouns almost always use the singular form.
Note that we are unable to use an a or an with these nouns. In order to express quantity of an uncountable noun, you need to use a word or expression like a lot of, some, much, a bit of, a great deal or..
If you were speaking in terms of measurement, you might choose to say a cup of, a bag of, 1kg of, a handful of, an hour of, etc.
- There has been a lot of research on the topic
- I have a great deal of confidence in him
- Can you please give me some more information about superlatives and adverbs
- How much sugar did you want?
There are nouns that are considered countable in languages other than English. They need to follow the rules for uncountable nouns – the list most common ones includes: accommodation, advice, baggage, behaviour, bread, furniture, information, luggage, news, progress, traffic, travel, trouble, weather, work.
- He gave me some great advice.
- How much work do you have left
- The traffic was heavy today
- The weather doesn’t look promising outside
- We have three hours of travel ahead of us
Nouns that Are Both Countable and Uncountable
Not to further complicate things, but there are nouns that can be both countable and uncountable, depending entirely on the context of the sentence. Examples of these nouns include hair, light, room, art, gear and science.
We touched briefly on a few examples above. Here are some more to help you better understand the situations in which a noun could be either countable or uncountable.
Countable: Did you have a good time at Susan’s house last night?
Uncountable: I don’t think I will have time to practice before school.
Adjectives and Articles Used with Countable and Uncountable Nouns
The key is to pay attention to articles and adjectives. Some articles and adjectives can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, and others can only be used with one or the other.
Here is an outline to help you better understand.
Used only with countable nouns.
- a few
- a teacher
- a doctor
- a pen
- many books
- many children
- few apples
- few people
- a few books
- a few questions
- a few problems
Used only with uncountable nouns.
- a little bit of
- much money
- much food
- much energy
- little meat
- little time
- a little bit of faith
- a little bit of sleep
- a little bit of rain
Used with both countable and uncountable nouns
- a lot of
- lots of
Examples of Uncountable nouns: These nouns are uncountable only.
Exercises to help practice countable and uncountable nouns
To recap, countable nouns are those things that can be counted using numbers and uncountable nouns are those things that cannot be counted using number. Most of the nouns we use in daily language are considered countable and have both plural and singular forms. All other nouns are considered to be uncountable.
There are nouns that can be considered both countable and uncountable, here are a few examples:
- ice cream
If you are having trouble determining if something is a countable or uncountable noun, ask yourself if it can be counted, or how much or how many there are. How is it measured?