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 Andrew international,

Life can be both countable and uncountable. It depends on whether we are talking about life as a general notion or abstract concept, or about the life of a particular person or type of person.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

The chair leg is broken
Is ''chair leg'' compound noun?
If it is so, can I change it to chair-leg?
If it is not so, how can we make a difference between noun modifier and compound noun?
Do we not use apostrophe(chair's leg) because it is a thing(chair), and preposition ''of'' should be used?

Thank you.

Hello MCSWL,

Yes, it is a compound noun. Sometimes compound nouns are two separate words, sometimes they become one and sometimes there's a hyphen. In this case, it's 'chair leg'.
As far as I know, there is no simple way to know whether two nouns can be used together in a compound as they are here – it is a matter of convention, i.e. it's how people have come to use the language.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. If we hyphenate words in order to work as a compound adjective, do we use plural nouns?
For example this sentence: She had a concealed-weapons permit.
Shouldn't it be concealed-weapon permit?

Thank you.

Hello MCSWL,

Normally the noun is singular in compound forms, though there are exceptions. In any case, in this case, I'd say 'concealed weapon permit'. Compound adjectives are normally noun + adj, noun + participle or adj + participle; 'concealed weapon' is an adj + noun, so a hyphen shouldn't be used there as far as I know.

If you haven't seen it already, Oxford has a page on hyphenation that might be of interest for you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, why do we use apostrophe here : ''a two minutes' drive'' and in this sentence we do not ''a two minute rest''. How can I know whether to use apostrophe or an noun modifier?

Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

I would not use an apostrophe in either case, but would hyphenate the phrase:

a two-minute drive

a two-minute rest

In these examples two-minute is an adjective and no apostophe is used.

It is possible to use an apostrophe, but it must be written without the indefinite article and is then treated as an uncountable noun with a quantifier (similar to 'some' or 'plenty of'), not an adjective + noun:

two minutes' drive

two minutes' rest


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you explain the difference between noun and noun that is formed from a verb.
For example: swim,swimming or wet, wetness.

Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

A noun formed from a verb with -ing is called a gerund. It functions in the same was as any other noun and can fulfil the same roles in the sentence. For more information about gerunds, see this page.

Your second example is not a noun formed from a verb. 'Wet' is an adjective; 'wetness' is a noun. Again, this functions as a normal noun - there is no difference in its use.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I am sorry for wrongly formulated question. ''wet'' according to Cambridge Dictionary can be a noun. Could you explain what is the difference between wet and wetness?

Thank you.