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

hello sir,
i have doubt on these sentences. please correct me
1. i have two pairs of shoes. or I have two pair of shoes.
2. i have 3 years experience. or I have 3 three year experience.
3. i buy 2 liters of milk. or i buy 2 liter of milk.
because
i have 5 rupee note. (it's correct) so in this way what about the above.......

Hello Afia shakir khan,

'two pairs of shoes', 'three years of experience', and 'two litres of milk' are the correct forms in these sentences because in all of them you are talking about more than one - there are two pairs, three years and two litres.

The reason we say 'a five rupee note' is that there is only one note. The note is worth five rupees, and you could even say 'I have five rupees', but if you mention the note, then it's a five-rupee note. The same could also be true of your sentence about the milk: if the milk came in a two-litre container, you could say you bought 'a two-litre of milk'.

I hope that clears it up for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Ok but is it
ten lords a leaping
ten lords aleaping
ten lords-a-leaping
tin lards be lappin

Dear Sir,

Could you kindly comment on the usage of the gerund as countable nouns?

I recently stumbled across the following in the British Corpus: "Or was his delay caused by the fact that he was merely fond of her, and did not actually love her? Would this be just another experience for him - a satisfying of his sexual needs, to be forgotten within a short time? The thought made her feel cold, causing her to stir restlessly" and similar " Obtaining services by deception (s.1) Section 1 provides: (1) A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains services from another shall be guilty of an offence. (2) It is an obtaining of services where the other is induced to confer a benefit by doing some act, or causing or permitting some act to be done, on the understanding that the benefit has been or will be paid for".
1) Would you say the use of 'an obtaining' and 'a satisfying' is correct?
2) If so, can we jump to the conclusion that all/most/some gerunds can be used as countable nouns?

Festive greetings and regards,
Oleg

Hello Oleg,

It is possible to use certain gerunds in this way in very formal language - literary (as in the first example) or, more often, legal language (as in the second). The gerund here is used with a sense of 'a kind of...' rather than with the normal more general meaning. I would not generalise to 'all' gerunds, though I would say that it is more a question of the style of the text than the grammatical rule.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hi peter

how do i know these sentence whether singular or plural. i give an example.

"the children were playing happily"
my question is why u using "were" instead of "was" pls clarify the sentence.

Hello taj25,

'children' is a plural noun, so plural verb ('were') is required, not a singular one ('was').

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I would like to ask you some questions:

''Trains travel on rails''

Does ''travel'' have dependent preposition ''on''?(I tried searching, but I didn't find information about it)

''I didn't do it on purpose''
''This book is on mathematics''

(''on'' is always followed by ''purpose'', and it goes after the verb ''to be'' as well. Does English have preposition + a noun like a noun + dependent preposion?)

Thank you very much for helping me

Hello BlackSheep,

No, a variety of prepositions can be used after 'travel' - if you look at the example sentences in different dictionaries (e.g. Cambridge, Oxford) I expect you'll see several.

'on purpose' is a fixed expression (scroll down the page to see the definition), kind of like 'on time' and many others.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello.

We should always have hope.
George had hopes of promotion

In the above two example 'hope' is in count and uncount form as you said.
please, elaborate this?

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