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 Sir,

I have come across the following sentences on your site-

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

I have read a certain rule on UNITS OF COUNTING. It says if units of counting such as pair, dozen, score, gross, hundred, thousand etc. are preceded by a definite number, then units of counting must be used in the singular.

But in the above mentioned sentences, it does not follow this particular rule. Could you please explain why ?

Thank you so much British Council Team

Hello iamsam1987,

I'm afraid that rule is not true of all units of counting. While it is true of the words you quote, it is not usually true of 'pair'; this is used in a plural form. Many such 'rules' are really just tendencies, examples of use which are formed through typical use rather than a fixed rule.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there,
Could you explain to me the two following sentence?

-How can you expect your children to be truthful when "you yourself" tell lie?
-"People all" like to attend the meeting
and why can't I use like the two in this sentence:
- "All animals have to eat in order to live" Why not: Animals all have to eat...
Thank a lot

Hi Joong Myn,

The phrase 'you yourself' is a more emphatic form of 'you' in this context. You can this sentence in various ways:

How can you expect your children to be truthful when you yourself tell lies?

How can you expect your children to be truthful when you tell lies?

How can you expect your children to be truthful when you tell lies yourself?

It is possible to say 'People all...' or 'All people' with little difference in meaning. Although 'All animals...' is the more common way to phrase your last sentence, 'Animals all...' is also correct.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I see, thanks

Besides, you say that it's possible to say 'People all...' or 'All people' , however, with little difference in meaning, and it's also exactly what I do want to know. Could you explain more?

Thanks a lot

the government in Sri Lanka is a democratic republic.
non of the government in South Asia is liberal.

are above sentences grammaticaly correct?

Hello PRASURAL,

We would be more likely to phrase the sentences as follows:

Sri Lanka is a democratic republic.

None of the governments of South Asia are liberal.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

*the government are always changing their minds
*none of the governments of South Asia are liberal

what is the reason not to add "s" to the word of 'government' in the above example which is included in the lesson?

Hello Prasural,

In British English, when a noun refers to a group of people, which includes nouns such as 'government', 'team', 'family', etc., the verb is usually used in the plural form. That is why this sentence says 'government are ...' If you changed it to 'governments are ...' that would be grammatically correct, but the meaning would be different.

I hope this helps.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

thank u very much for that explaining... YES that helped me a lot.

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