Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns

Did you know that not all nouns are countable in English? Knowing the difference between countable and uncountable nouns can help you in many areas of English grammar.

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns are nouns that can be counted. Most nouns in English are countable.

Examples:

  • I have two dogs.
  • Sandra has three cars.
  • Jessie has ten dollars.

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns are not counted in English. This usually has to do with the way English speakers think of these nouns. We often picture these nouns as a single concept or one big thing which is hard to divide. Many of these words are countable in other languages, but they ARE NOT countable in English. Generally, we do not use plural forms of these words; however some of these words do end in "s", so don't get confused.

Examples:

  • Mack drinks a lot of water.
  • Cindy gives great advice.
  • Paul enjoys politics. Ends with "s" but uncountable

Uncountable nouns tend to belong to one of the following categories:

Liquids and Gases

  • water
  • coffee
  • milk
  • air
  • oxygen

Solid and Granular Substances

  • wood
  • metal
  • cheese
  • sand
  • rice

Energy Words and Forces

  • electricity
  • sunshine
  • radiation
  • heat
  • magnetism

Subjects

  • French
  • chemistry
  • economics
  • science
  • math

Grouped Concepts

  • fruit
  • money
  • food
  • vocabulary
  • news

Information and Abstract Concepts

  • information
  • advice
  • education
  • democracy
  • intelligence

Uncountable Plurals

Sometimes in English, we do use uncountable nouns in plural forms. This is most commonly done with liquids and substances. It usually takes on the meaning of "cups of", "bottles of" or "types of".

Examples:

  • We'll have two coffees. Cups of coffee
  • I bought three waters. Bottles of water
  • The company produces two leathers. Types of leather

Different Meanings

There are certain words which have multiple meanings. It is possible for one meaning to be countable and the other to be uncountable. Take for example the word "light":

Examples:

  • I couldn't see anything because there was no light. Uncountable noun
  • The Christmas tree was covered with hundreds of lights. Countable noun

Generally, the rules are still the same. The first use of "light" is a form of energy. The second use of "light" means "small light bulbs", which are normal countable objects.

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