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




Hello Oleg27,

Sometimes the article is used or not used as part of a fixed expression and other times it is used on the basis of its meaning.

In your examples it is useful to think about how the meaning changes when different articles are used:

a change of an address  - this would suggest you have multiple addresses and change one

a change of the address - this would be used only when the address has already been mentioned and you are referring back to this

Without the article the meaning is more general and is about the concept of changing address. However, the phrase is also a fixed expression. You can see this when you consider how the plural is formed: not changes of addresses but changes of address.

The same applies to all three examples: they are general in meaning, describing the concepts of 'government', 'student' and 'teacher' rather than particular examples of these.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

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.
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,
The LearnEnglish Team

thank you very much sir,
i am highly indebted to you.

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,

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,


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,
The LearnEnglish Team


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