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

Hello there,
I'd like to ask you a quesition.
when it comes to abstract noun. How can we decide whether the word is countable or uncountable noun ?
for example,
She has too much pride to admit her mistake.
I will put a lot of effort to win that challange.
Thank you
Best regards, :)

Hello Raspati,

Abstract nouns are often uncountable when used in an abstract sense. For example, 'time' is uncountable when used to refer to the concept of time, but if we use the word in a non-abstract sense, to mean 'a period of time', then it becomes countable. For example:

Time passes more slowly as you get older.

I had a great time at the party.

Beyond that general rule of thumb, I'm afraid it's just necessary to learn how each word is used.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everyone!
I've always found 'an English teacher,a Maths teacher....' using the construction noun+noun...Is the expression 'a teacher of English' likewise correct or the meaning changes?
Thanks in advance..
Kind regards,
Ilariuccia

Hello Ilariuccia,

English has quite a few compound nouns (noun + noun) combinations like 'English teacher' (e.g. chocolate milk, horse race, sunglasses). Forms such as the one you propose are not grammatically incorrect, but sound unnatural enough that I'd recommend you avoid using them.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again...
I've got another question...Is there any difference in use between the uncount noun jewellery and the plural jewels?
Thanks,
Ilariuccia

Hello Ilariuccia,

If you look at the definitions carefully in the dictionary, you will see there can be a difference here, as 'jewellery' can refer to more than precious stones, whereas 'jewels' really refers only to precious stones.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear BC team,

this is definitely the most difficult exercise for me up to now. So, I have a few questions. I have to say that I searched a lot on the topic of countable and uncountable nouns over internet, and I find out more there, also. Unfortunately, there are some things make me confused.

First, in the second part of this section you explain "HOPE" and "TRAVEL". When I saw this in dictionary I did not notice if there article "A" or "AN" in front of noun when it is countable. Does it mean that if they are singular then we use them us uncountable. And please could you give me some more examples of these words? It would be easier, and then I would check them in dictionary.

Second, in section 5 (group nouns) Group nouns have an article when they are singular (a group, a committee..). We use it like every another count noun. But words "stuff" or "public" does not have undefinite articles. Right? We cannot say "a public", but just "public" or "the public".

Am I right about following questions:
1.A government is unpopular. (we talk about government in general, for example if you were a member of some government that would be rude because governments are unpopular)
2. The government is unpopular. (we talk about one government, for ecample the government of India)
3. (The) governments are unpopular. ( we talk about several governments, for example the government of India, Peru and the U.S. which are unpopular this moment)

Thank you in advance. It is interesting be here on your website. Every new day I learn something which help me a lot!

Hello swxswx,

You're right in thinking that seeing examples of some words is useful in understanding how they work. To see examples of any word in use, you can do an internet search for the word inside inverted commas (e.g. "hope", "travels") and you'll see lots of examples. Another useful tool for this same kind of research is a corpus - see for example, the British National Corpus. Simply enter the word you want to see in context in the box in the top left, and then click on the result on the right and you'll see lots of examples.

As for your questions regarding group nouns and the last three about the use of articles with 'government', you are correct.

Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Team,
I need to understand that, from the following, which ones have correct form of noun(Singular/Plural):

1. These buildings are made of bricks and stones.
Or,
These buildings are mde of brick and stone.

2. She had gone to buy fruits.
Or,
She had gone to buy fruit.

Also, I would request you suggest that whether we have list of Singular/Plural nous on this site.

Thanks in advance..

Manoj

Hello Manoj,

You can use the dictionary to look up singular and plural forms of nouns – see the searchbox under Cambridge Dictionaries Online on the lower right side of this and most pages. All four sentences are correct but mean slightly different things. 1a is used to refer to the quantity of bricks and stones and 1b refers more to the material the buildings are made of. It's a subtle difference. 2a means that she's going to buy different kinds of fruit and 2b is less specific – it could be all one kind of fruit or different kinds. I'd suggest you look up 'fruit' in the dictionary to see what I mean. [C] means it's a count noun and [UC] means it's an uncount noun.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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