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

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Substances as count or uncount nouns 2

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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

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Nouns with two meanings 2

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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

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Comments

Hello Namdwit,

'Travel' as an abstract concept is uncountable. For example:

Travel is a great way to learn about other cultures.

When we want to talk about a particular person's journeys, however, we can use a countable form. In this sense it means the same as 'journeys' but it is not used to talk about concrete trips. In other words we can say:

In all his travels, he was never a victim of violence.

However we would not say:

I have six travels this week.

We would use 'trips' here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
'equipment' is an uncount noun. Is allright to say:1. 'The equipment is defective.' 2. Some equipment are defective or is defective.
Going through the BRITISH COUNCIL website: one can use 'some' to say more than one but the verb remains singular. eg. There is some milk on the floor. so my sentence 2. is wrong. I shouldn't use 'are'
and I cannot use 'the' I must say 'equipment is defective ' eg. 1.
Please let me know .
Regards

Hello Andrew international,

Uncount nouns take a singular verb, so 'the equipment are defective' is not correct - you should use the singular verb 'is'. 'milk' is also an uncount noun in the sentence you mentioned and that is why the verb 'is' is correct in that sentence.

'some' can be used with both count and uncount nouns and so can 'the'. I'd recommend you follow the links I provided to read more about each.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
I went through your websites carefully but still I have a few things to be clarified .
Such as: How much equipment do you have?
How much is one equipment?
How many of the equipment are sevicable?
How many of the equipment are defective?
Are these questions correct if not please tell me why?
Thank you.
Regards

Hello again Andrew international,

Numbers, which are used to count, are not used with uncount nouns, so 'one equipment' is not correct. Instead, you could say 'one piece of equipment', for example. Your other questions would probably (I can't say for sure without knowing the context) best be constructed as 'How much of the equipment is serviceable/defective?' - what is certain is that you shouldn't use 'how many' because 'how many' is used only with count nouns.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team 

Dear Sir
These sentences are puzzling for me. Would you tell me they are right or wrong. It is about using 'a' 'the'
The cow is a useful animal.
A cow is a useful animal.
A horse is a noble animal.
The horse is a noble animal.
My problem is : 'the' is a specific determiner and 'a' is a general determiner. Is it allright to use both articles or not.
Thank you.
Regards

Hello Andrew international,

I'd recommend you not think of 'the' as a 'specific determiner' and of 'a' as a general determiner, because it's more complex than this. Our Articles 1 and 2 pages present articles in general in a way that many people find helpful.

The specific case of 'the' and 'a' in sentences like the ones you ask about is a tricky one. Both are correct and there is no significant difference in meaning, and, as I mentioned in my last comment, the plural form of the subject (e.g. 'Cows are ...') is much more common than 'the' or 'a'.

The sentence with 'the' could be found in a nature documentary, for example, where a whole species is being discussed. The sentence with 'a' could be found in a documentary on farms, where a whole class of farm animals is being discussed. 

It's difficult to say much more than this on this topic. I'd suggest you pay special attention to how articles are used as you read. This should help you understand them better, though also consider that articles is one of the points of English grammar that is most difficult to master, so be patient with yourself.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

dear sir
is it correct when I write" I bought two pairs of new blue jeans yesterday" ? I don't know how to arrange " new blue" in this sentence.
Thank you

Hello lisa Tran,

Yes, that is perfectly correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I need to know whether "majority" takes singular or plural verb?

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