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Nouns - what's countable, uncountable?

Countable nouns

These nouns apply to things that can be counted using numbers; for something that can be treated as a separate item.

These types of nouns have both singular and plural forms (e.g. cat/cats, country/countries, book/books). In their singular form they can be preceded by a or an (e.g. I own a house, she read an article, we have a cat). Most nouns fall into this category.

Uncountable nouns

These nouns typically refer to things that cannot be counted with numbers and they do not usually have a separate plural form (i.e. the same form is used for both the singular and plural), e.g. furniture, sunshine, milk, wool, coal.

You cannot say, for example, ‘we have lots of furnitures in our lounge’ or ‘today there will be lots of sunshines’. Uncountable nouns are also referred to as mass nouns.

These are things that are seen as a whole or a mass and which cannot easily be separated into individual pieces/units. More examples include wood, fire, rain, flour, rice, research.

Many abstract nouns (= a noun that refers to an idea, quality or state; you cannot touch or see them in a physical sense) are also uncountable (e.g. happiness, truth, humour, enthusiasm).

The following are common categories into which most uncountable nouns fall:

· liquids (e.g. wine, water)

· abstract ideas (e.g. advice, chaos, motivation)

· powder and grain (e.g. rice, wheat, sand)

· natural phenomena (e.g. thunder, rain, snow, sunshine)

· states of being (e.g. sleep, stress, childhood)

· feelings (anger, happiness, enthusiasm, courage)

· gas (oxygen, air).

It is not possible to use a or an with uncountable nouns. To express a quantity of these nouns (i.e. as a plural), you have to use an expression/unit of measurement such as:

· some

· a lot of

· much

· a bit of

· a great deal of

· a cup of

· a bag of

· 1 kg of

· three sachets of

· a handful of.

Example sentences:

· A lot of research has been done in this area.

· He gave me a great deal of advice before I went for the interview.

· How much sugar do you need?

· You need 1 cup of water, 300 g of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Some nouns that are countable in other languages are in fact uncountable in English. Therefore, they follow the same rules as for uncountable nouns. Some of the most common ones include:

· accommodation

· advice

· baggage

· behaviour

· bread

· furniture

· information

· luggage

· news

· progress

· traffic

· travel

· trouble

· weather

· work


· I need a loaf of bread, not I need a bread

· Could you give me some advice on accommodation? not Could you give me some advices on accommodations?

· There was a lot of traffic, not there was traffics.

· We didn’t get much good weather on holiday, not we didn’t get good weathers.

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