1: Uncount nouns used as count nouns

Although substances are usually uncount nouns...

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

... they can be also 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 on sale.  = They had over twenty [types of] cheese on sale.
This is an excellent soft cheese.  = This [kind of] soft cheese is excellent.

 2: Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form:

We should always have hope.
George had hopes of promotion.
Travel is a great teacher.
Where did you go on your travels?

 

3: Nouns with two meanings

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

His life was in danger.
There is a serious danger of fire.

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

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

Other words like this are:

 

business death  industry marriage power property
tax time victory use work  

 4: Uncount nouns that end in -s

Some uncount nouns end in -s so they look like plurals even though they are singular nouns.

These nouns 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.
 

5: Group nouns

Some nouns, like army, refer to groups of people, animals or things, and we can use them either as singular nouns or as plural nouns.

army audience committee company crew enemy
family flock gang government group herd
media public regiment staff team  

We can use these group nouns either as singular nouns or as plural nouns:

  • My family is very dear to me.
    I have a large family. They are very dear to me. (= The members of my family…)
  • The government is very unpopular.
    The government are always changing their minds.

Sometimes we think of the group as a single thing:

  • The audience always enjoys the show.
  • The group consists of two men and three women.

Sometimes we think of the group as several individuals;

  • The audience clapped their hands.
  • The largest group are the boys.


The names of many organisations and teams are also group nouns, but they are usually plural in spoken English:

  • Barcelona are winning 2-0.
  • The United Oil Company are putting prices up by 12%.
     

6: Two-part nouns

A few plural nouns, like binoculars, refer to things that have two parts.

glasses jeans knickers pincers pants pliers
pyjamas scissors shorts spectacles tights trainers
trousers tweezers        

These binoculars were very expensive
Those trousers are too long.

To make it clear we are talking about one of these items, we use a pair of …

I need a new pair of spectacles.
I’ve bought a pair of blue jeans.

If we want to talk about more than one, we use pairs of … :

We’ve got three pairs of scissors, but they are all blunt.
I always carry two pairs of binoculars.
 

Exercise

Comments

Dear Peter M,
Thank you very much you explain difference between a difficult marriage and simple marriage careful and understandable. Now I know how to use nouns with two meanings.
Kind regards,
Diana

Hello,

Is there a difference between 'order' and 'orders?'

He will not work except order / orders.

Which word to use?

Regards.

Hi amol,

I'm afraid that sentence is not correct in standard British English with either 'order' or 'orders'. Perhaps you mean something like 'He will not work except under orders' or 'He will not work unless he is ordered to'?

'order' can be a noun as well as a verb. In my first sentence, it is a noun and in my second sentence it is a passive verb. I'd suggest you check the dictionary for more examples of how it is used.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,

I'd like to ask why do we use "lies" instead of "lie" although we have two nouns (Independence and Sovereignty) in the sentence below:

"Psychological Defence posits that the assurance of independence and sovereignty for Singapore lies in the spirit of Singaporeans."

Thanks!

Hi YH,

The subject of 'lies' is 'assurance', which is the head of the noun phrase 'the assurance of independence and sovereignty for Singapore'. Since 'assurance' is grammatically singular, so is the verb.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Teacher,

I have a question about nouns. Let's say a man is wearing a shirt and a tie. Another man is wearing a shirt and a tie, too. Which of the following is correct?

1) Both of them are wearing shirts and ties.
2) Both of them are wearing a shirt and a tie.

1) seems to be more common, but is more ambiguous than 2). If you say 1), I wouldn't know if each of them is wearing more than one shirt/tie, but 2) means each is wearing a shirt and a tie. If you could shed some light it'd be great. Thank you.

Hello learning,

Sentence 2 is generally considered the correct one, for the reason you state. But, as you note, sometimes you can see or hear sentences like 1, even when the meaning is that each person is only wearing one shirt and tie. I would encourage you to use the second version.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sirs,

I have this sentence: "Her artistic talents were wasted in that boring job." I checked the meaning of the noun talent in my dictionary and it says talent can be both countable and uncountable. Can I also say: "Her artistic talent was wasted in that boring job"? In this case, I am using talent as an uncountable noun in that sense that the noun talent now includes several unknown talents. Did I get it right or there is a difference in meaning when talent is used as an uncountable noun rather than a countable noun?
Thanks.

Hello cbenglish,
Your sentence is correct.
In this context there is no difference in meaning and you could use either form.
More generally, the uncountable form describes a person's overall ability in a given area, while the countable form may be more specific and describe particular concrete abilities. Thus, 'artistic talent' describes a person's overall ability, while 'artistic talents' might describe painting, photography, drawing etc.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

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