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

Section: 

Comments

Hi there,

''Half of the toaster work (or works)''

Is half of it still singular?

Thank you.

Helli JakiGeh,

When we use 'half of + noun' the verb which follows agrees with the noun. For example:

half of the people are ['people' is plural, so the verb is plural]

half of the toaster is ['toaster' is singular, so the verb is singular]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
I'd like to know which one of the following sentences is correct and why?
- He showed good command of English language. Or
- He showed (a) good command of English language.
- He managed to achieve good enhancement in various language skills. Or
- He managed to achieve (a) good enhancement in various language skills.

Hello Raghad hm,

When we use 'command' with this meaning, normally it has a determiner like 'a' or 'her' in front of it, so the second sentence is the correct one here.

As for the other two, I'd say the second one is better. It is grammatically correct, though it sounds a bit odd to me. Most native speakers would probably phrase this idea as 'He managed to improve his language skills' or something similar.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi
"Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form", as mentioned in point no. 2 above. How to decide whether it's to be used as a count or an uncount in a particular context?

Hi Adya's,

There is no rule which lets you know this in advance; you simply have to learn it as you learn the words. Sometimes there is a logical reason, of course. For example, 'coffee' is an uncount noun when describing the substance we use but a count noun when we are talking about cups of coffee.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! I would like to ask about the word "dollars", whether it's ok for it to be followed by either singular or plural verb.
Eg. Ten thousand dollars is/are needed to make this investement.
Twenty dollars a day is/are a very low salary.

Thank you!
Kelly

Hello Kelly,

In general, plurals nouns will take plural verbs, as in the first sentence, where 'are' is correct. In the second sentence, however, 'is' is correct. This is because you're talking about a salary, so the idea of the $20 (as a salary) is singular.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Pages