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 The sky view,

It depends on how you view them. In 'There are 100 cents in a dollar', you're talking about how many cents there in a dollar - since this idea includes the idea of many cents, the plural is used. In '$20 is a lot to lose', on the other hand, the idea is of an amount of money ($20) and in this way it is like one unit in itself. In addition, if the dollars are US dollars, there is a $20 note, so the speaker could be thinking about the $20 note.

It can be a bit difficult to see in this abstract, so if you have any more specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there,
Would you consider "noodles" a count or uncount noun. "I've eaten too much noodles" and "I've eaten too many noodles" –– which of these two sentences is incorrect?
Thank you!

Hi Elli3,

'Noodles' is a countable nouns, and so we would say 'too many noodles'. By contrast, 'spaghetti' and 'rice' are uncountable.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Please tell me whether this sentence is correct or not. In my opinion it is
correct but I would like to know your answer.
A pair of cotton trousers is Rs. 2000.00.
I think it is correct because 'A pair' is the subject.
Thank you.
Best regards

Hello Andrew international,

Yes, that sentence is correct. The subject is the noun phrase 'A pair of cotton trousers', which is singular.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
I went through your website uncountable nouns and abstract nouns
but I couldn't find an answer to this but it was very useful.
My question is this: is 'life' an uncountable noun? I think it is so under abstract nouns but I have seen clauses such as - 'his life; 'their lives.
Please explain this to me.
Thank you in advance.
Best regards
Andrew international

Hello Andrew international,

Life can be both countable and uncountable. It depends on whether we are talking about life as a general notion or abstract concept, or about the life of a particular person or type of person.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello.
The chair leg is broken
Is ''chair leg'' compound noun?
If it is so, can I change it to chair-leg?
If it is not so, how can we make a difference between noun modifier and compound noun?
Do we not use apostrophe(chair's leg) because it is a thing(chair), and preposition ''of'' should be used?

Thank you.

Hello MCSWL,

Yes, it is a compound noun. Sometimes compound nouns are two separate words, sometimes they become one and sometimes there's a hyphen. In this case, it's 'chair leg'.
As far as I know, there is no simple way to know whether two nouns can be used together in a compound as they are here – it is a matter of convention, i.e. it's how people have come to use the language.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. If we hyphenate words in order to work as a compound adjective, do we use plural nouns?
For example this sentence: She had a concealed-weapons permit.
Shouldn't it be concealed-weapon permit?

Thank you.

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