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Common problems with count and uncount nouns

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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, dear friends!

I need your help with a phrase at the beginning of a text about tea:
"... tea is ... evergreen plant". I understand that we should put an article "an" before evergreen, but what about an article before "tea" in this case? I consulted several dictionaries (including Oxford): tea in general is uncountable, but when we speak about a plant "tea" may be a countable noun. So, if the phrase is: "A tea plant is evergreen" it is correct, isn't it?
But "a tea is an evergreen plant" sounds for me incorrect... The same thing with "the tea is an evergreen plant" because we do not speak about any concrete tea.
What do you think?

Thank you and with best wishes,
Aislin.

Hello Aislin

Given no particular context, the forms that are correct here include: 'Tea is an evergreen plant', 'Tea plants are evergreen', 'A tea plant is evergreen' or 'The tea plant is evergreen' (or 'is an evergreen plant').

If you're speaking about tea plants in general, then the most commonly used form would probably be the second sentence I listed above.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Kirk,

thank you very much for your fast answer!
I think, I've got it.

All the best,
Aislin.

Hello.
What is MS Word?
I know. It's a software.
Open source softwares provide a rich resource ...
'software' is a countable or uncountable noun?
Has 'software' become a countable noun?

Hello anirfd,
I would not use 'software' as a countable noun. I would say 'a piece of software', not 'a software'.
~
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sirs,

I have this sentence: "Her artistic talents were wasted in that boring job." I checked the meaning of the noun talent in my dictionary and it says talent can be both countable and uncountable. Can I also say: "Her artistic talent was wasted in that boring job"? In this case, I am using talent as an uncountable noun in that sense that the noun talent now includes several unknown talents. Did I get it right or there is a difference in meaning when talent is used as an uncountable noun rather than a countable noun?
Thanks.

Hello cbenglish,
Your sentence is correct.
In this context there is no difference in meaning and you could use either form.
More generally, the uncountable form describes a person's overall ability in a given area, while the countable form may be more specific and describe particular concrete abilities. Thus, 'artistic talent' describes a person's overall ability, while 'artistic talents' might describe painting, photography, drawing etc.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Teacher,

I have a question about nouns. Let's say a man is wearing a shirt and a tie. Another man is wearing a shirt and a tie, too. Which of the following is correct?

1) Both of them are wearing shirts and ties.
2) Both of them are wearing a shirt and a tie.

1) seems to be more common, but is more ambiguous than 2). If you say 1), I wouldn't know if each of them is wearing more than one shirt/tie, but 2) means each is wearing a shirt and a tie. If you could shed some light it'd be great. Thank you.

Hello learning,

Sentence 2 is generally considered the correct one, for the reason you state. But, as you note, sometimes you can see or hear sentences like 1, even when the meaning is that each person is only wearing one shirt and tie. I would encourage you to use the second version.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,

I'd like to ask why do we use "lies" instead of "lie" although we have two nouns (Independence and Sovereignty) in the sentence below:

"Psychological Defence posits that the assurance of independence and sovereignty for Singapore lies in the spirit of Singaporeans."

Thanks!

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