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


Substances as count or uncount nouns 2


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


Nouns with two meanings 2


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




Dear Sir
Re: passive voice or not

Tea is grown in Sri Lanka. Tea is exported. The structure of these two sentences seems to be pasive Please let me know whether they are passive or not.
Thank you.
Andrew international

Hello Andrew international,

Yes, both of those sentences are passive.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Ref. on Sunday
Thank you very much for explaning the above mentioned phrase
It was not very clear for me before.
Andrew international

Dear Sir
Please explain this to me.
The shop is closed on Sunday. If this sentence is correct 'on Sunday' means every Sunday
I am I correct? Is it also correct to say' The shop is closed 'on Sundays.'
Please let me know.
Andrew international

Hello Andrew international,

The phrase 'on Sunday' can refer to one particular day or to a general state (every Sunday). It is not clear from the sentence alone which is being referred to but may be from the context.

If we say 'on Sundays' then we are decribing a general fact (every Sunday).

If we want to be clear that we are talking about only one (exceptional) Sunday then we would say 'this Sunday', 'next Sunday', 'last Sunday' or similar.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


''They ate all the stewed apple/apples''

What is the difference between each sentence when the noun is changed?

Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

'stewed apple' is an uncount noun phrase and 'stewed apples' is a count noun phrase. In the first, the food is viewed more as a unit and in the second it is viewed as something with parts. Other than that, out of context I can't think of any other difference -- it's quite a subtle one.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


''John's been in prison for ten years''

The noun is uncountable in the sentence, which says that John in general has done time. The prison is non-specific and uncountable. If I change it to ''a prison,'' it'll mean John's been just in one prison that is non-specific too. In other words, the difference between the two is that the first sentence more shows the state and doesn't give any information of the prison or prisons he has been in(it could mean he has been in more than one prison). But the second gives the quantity of prisons, which is one.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

''The problems of British prisons''

What would the difference be if I changed prisons to prison(uncountable) here?


Hello MCWSL,

There is a particular use of articles here. When we are describing a public institution which is being used for its original purpose we do not use an article. For example:

He went to hospital [he's a patient]

He went to a hospital [he is visiting for some reason; we do not know or do not care which hospital it is]

He went to the hospital [he is visiting for some reason; both the speaker and the listener know which hospital it is]

The same pattern can be seen with a number of other institutions: school, university, college, prison, court, and church.

I'm in church [I'm praying/participating in a service]

I'm in a church [I'm visiting, perhaps as a tourist]

I'm in the church [I'm visiting a specific known church]


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi ,

I've got this sentence: We saw a rapid rise in life expectancy due to improvement in medicine".

My question is : with regard to the word " expectancy" , does it have the same meaning in this context as the word " expectation" or " life span "? I understand that life expectancy is how long we expect someone to live and life span also means the maximum time someone live. But what about expectation? Does expectation also means our expectation of life time of a person?

thank you