Grammar > Nouns > Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable and 

Uncountable nouns

By Alena Lien, 7 Dec 2020

Countable nouns

These are usually things that are found as individual objects and easy to count, and have both singular and plural forms. 

 

For example, apple, horse, house, ball, man, picture, book etc.

 

  • "Wally owns 1 horse that he keeps at a stable nearby."

  • "I bought 4 apples and a bag of oranges."

Uncountable nouns

 These are nouns that are not easy to count and are usually used in their singular form.

Examples of uncountable nouns include:

Abstract ideas and experiences

-   information, advice, work, news, progress, trouble, knowledge, research

  • "Have you gotten much work done today?"

  • "I haven't been making a lot of progress with the script."

Substances - liquids, gases, and powders 

-   tea, sugar, flour, air, perfume, water, milk

 

  • "How much sugar do you have in your coffee?"

  • "I think I sprayed too much perfume."

Materials

-   wood, metal, plastic, paper, stone, rubber, glass 

 

  • "Can you get more wood for the fire?"

  • "We've run out of paper." 

Names for groups or collections of things

-   furniture, equipment, rubbish, luggage, food

  • "I have to leave the cat some food before I head out."

  • "We went to the mall last week to look for new furniture for the living room."

+ Quantity expressions

Uncountable nouns can be measured by using quantity expressions. 

For example:  

Slice of bread

  • "How much bread would you like?"

  • "I would like 2 slices of bread, thank you."

Teaspoon of sugar

  • "I like to add sugar to my cornflakes."

  • "She usually likes her tea with a teaspoon of sugar."

Sheet of paper

  • "Can you get more paper from the storeroom?"

  • "The booklet requires 10 sheets of paper for printing."

Plural uncountable nouns

There are uncountable nouns that have no singular forms - the plural form would usually represent a single object. 

Examples include trousers, shorts, pants, pyjamas, spectacles (or glasses), binoculars, scissors etc.

  • "I can't find the scissors anywhere. Can we get a new pair later?"

  • "We got matching pink pyjamas."

 
 

Nouns that can be countable or uncountable

There are nouns that can be used as either countable or uncountable nouns depending on how you use them.

Nouns with different definitions

There are nouns that have several different definitions and therefore can be used as either countable or uncountable nouns.

For example: 

Time

  • "I've read Lord of the Rings many times." 

This is referring to the number of occasions I've read Lord of the Rings.

  • "I don't have much time left to make dessert." 

This is referring to the amount of time I have left to make dessert.

Iron

  • "Teapots made of iron are generally more expensive and last for many years."

This is referring to the hard metal material.

  • "My iron stopped working this morning and I had to go to work in a wrinkled shirt."

This is referring to the household appliance to smooth out wrinkles in clothes.

Other examples include art, room, work, paper, glass, light etc.

Abstract nouns

Uncountable abstract nouns have a more general meaning, and countable abstract nouns have a more particular/specific meaning.

For example:

Education

  • "Education is an important investment for both the individual and the country."

This is referring to education in general.

  • "I had a pretty good education, but unfortunately it can be difficult to know what to do with it."

This is referring to my personal education.

Sleep

"Good sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle."

This is referring to sleep in general.

"He fell into a deep sleep after full a day of activities."

This is referring to the one occasion of sleeping.

Other examples include experience, hatred, help, knowledge, life, love, understanding, etc.

Nouns with different types or varieties

Uncountable nouns can be used as countable nouns by counting their types or varieties.

For example:

Cheese

  • "I like to add cheese to my omelettes."

This is referring to the dairy food.

  • "What cheeses do you recommend for a cheese board?"

This is referring to the varieties of cheese.

Wood

  • "I like the feel of furniture made of wood."

This is referring to the hard material that forms the branches and trunks of trees. 

  • "What woods are preferable for making furniture?"

This is referring to the types of wood.

Other examples include dessert, food, fuel, gas, grass, meat, metal etc.

Whole vs Part nouns 

Countable whole => uncountable part

 

Things that are found as whole single objects are considered countable, but the noun becomes uncountable when a part of the object is referred to. 

For example:

Cake

  • "Can I get 2 chocolate cakes?"

This is referring to 2 whole cakes.

  • "Can I get 2 slices of chocolate cake?"

This is referring to 2 parts of a whole cake.

Ham

  • "Wally promised to bring a roast ham for dinner this weekend."

This is referring to the whole leg or shoulder of a pig that has been preserved with salt or smoke.

  • "How much ham would you like in your sandwich?"

This is referring to a part of a whole ham.

Exception

"Hair" is usually considered uncountable, but the noun becomes countable when referring to individual parts.

  • "She usually washes her hair after a swim."

This is referring to the mass of fibres growing on the head.

  • "I found a hair in my soup!"

This is referring to a single strand of hair.