You are here

Common problems with count and uncount nouns

Level: beginner 

Substances as count or uncount nouns

Substances are usually uncount nouns:

Would you like some cheese?
Coffee keeps me awake at night.
Wine makes me sleepy.

but they can also be used as count nouns:

I'd like a coffee, please. = I'd like a [cup of] coffee.
May I have a white wine? = May I have a [glass of] white wine?
They sell a lot of coffees. = They sell a lot of [different kinds of] coffee.
I prefer white wines to red. = I prefer [different kinds of] white wine to red.
They had over twenty cheeses. = They had over twenty [types of] cheese.
This is an excellent soft cheese. = This [kind of] soft cheese is excellent.

Substances as count or uncount nouns 1

TrueOrFalse_MTYwODQ

Substances as count or uncount nouns 2

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTYwODY

Nouns with both a count and an uncount form

Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form. Their meanings are closely related:

George had hopes of promotion.
We should always have hope.


There's a danger of avalanches on the mountain.
Some people enjoy danger.

Level: intermediate

Nouns with two meanings

Some nouns have two meanings, one count and the other uncount:

Can I have a glass of water?
I cut myself on some glass.

 

Is English a difficult language?
Linguistics is the study of language.

The Times is an excellent paper.
It's made of paper.

Other nouns like this are:

business industry property wood
power time work hair
Nouns with two meanings 1

TrueOrFalse_MTYwODc

Nouns with two meanings 2

MultipleChoice_MTYwODk

Uncount nouns that end in –s

Some uncount nouns end in –s. They look like plural count nouns, but they are not.

Nouns like this generally refer to:

Subjects of study: mathematics, physics, economics, etc.
Activities: gymnastics, athletics, etc. 
Games: cards, darts, billiards, etc.
Diseases: mumps, measles, rabies, etc.

Economics is a very difficult subject.
Billiards is easier than pool or snooker.

Uncount nouns that end in –s

MultipleChoice_MTYwODg

 

Comments

Hello
I would like to ask something about the sentence that I quoted from BBC Food:

Each serving provides 285 kcal, 20g protein, 33g carbohydrates (of which 11g sugars), 7g fat (of which 3g saturates), 6g fibre and 0.8g salt

Why is that used
33 carbohydrates

of which 11g sugars

3g saturates
carbohydrate, sugar and saturate are uncountable in this context. Aren't they?
And why we don't use salt, fibre with plural form if we use the above ones with plural forms.

Hi knownman,

You're right that it would also make sense to use uncountable forms here. But using plural countable forms is the way that recipes are normally written. They give a sense that there are a number of different types.

- carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, starches)
- sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose)

With 'salt', my guess is that recipe writers use 'salt' (uncountable) rather than 'salts' (countable) because, although there are many types of salt in the world, salt in food is mostly a single type (sodium chloride).

Best regards,

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

This is really helpful. Thanks.

Abstract ideas, Human feelings and Activities how to use them as Noun with both a count and an uncount form?
Can you please explain it with example as I'm having problem in understanding?

Hello itspb008

Could you please tell me where on this page the things you are referring to are located? If they are not here, could you please give some examples of what you mean? We are happy to try to help you with grammar rules related to this topic, but we do ask that you make your questions specific, as it's quite difficult to answer such general questions.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello itspb008

Thanks for being more specific. My sense is that 'hope' is more often used as an uncount noun, and in this case, it's speaking about hope in general. But there are some expressions where it is used as a count noun, and as far as I can tell, in these cases it's a more specific hope. But, to be honest, I'm not sure if the inference I've made here is applicable to all cases in which 'hope' is a noun.

I'd suggest you have a look at the numerous example sentences (with numerous expressions) in the Cambridge Dictionary entry for 'hope', as well as their grammar page, which has a section on 'hope' as a noun

As far as I know, what I've said here isn't something you can generalise and apply to other nouns that refer to human emotions. All languages have numerous expressions that are collocations that one must just learn, and this is particularly true of English, especially at an advanced level.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes, just one SUGAR, please.
Why is it Uncountable?
If you're going to the shops, can you buy me a bar of CHOCOLATE?
Why is it Uncountable?

How can we use Nouns with both count and uncount in different sentences?

When we use industries, businesses, properties etc ?
When we use industry, business, property etc?

Hello itspb008,

In your sentences, both one sugar and a bar of chocolate are countable, not uncountable.

 

Some nouns can be used as either countable or uncountable nouns. When we think of sugar as a substance which we weigh by the kilo, then it is uncountable. When we think of sugar as a something we add to coffee which can be measured in lumps or spoonfuls, then it can be countable. Another example would be coffee. The substance is uncountable, but we can say a coffee when we are talking about a cup of coffee, for example.

When we talk about industry as a concept (as a sector of the economy, for example) then it is uncountable. If we want to talk about particular kinds of industry (the constuction industry, the automobile industry, the tech industry etc) then we can use the word as a countable noun: some industries are coping better with the current situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, dear friends!

I need your help with a phrase at the beginning of a text about tea:
"... tea is ... evergreen plant". I understand that we should put an article "an" before evergreen, but what about an article before "tea" in this case? I consulted several dictionaries (including Oxford): tea in general is uncountable, but when we speak about a plant "tea" may be a countable noun. So, if the phrase is: "A tea plant is evergreen" it is correct, isn't it?
But "a tea is an evergreen plant" sounds for me incorrect... The same thing with "the tea is an evergreen plant" because we do not speak about any concrete tea.
What do you think?

Thank you and with best wishes,
Aislin.

Hello Aislin

Given no particular context, the forms that are correct here include: 'Tea is an evergreen plant', 'Tea plants are evergreen', 'A tea plant is evergreen' or 'The tea plant is evergreen' (or 'is an evergreen plant').

If you're speaking about tea plants in general, then the most commonly used form would probably be the second sentence I listed above.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Pages