Level: beginner

Some nouns in English are uncount nouns. We do not use uncount nouns in the plural and we do not use them with the indefinite article a/an:

We ate a lot of food. (NOT foods)
We bought some new furniture. (NOT furnitures)
That's useful information. (NOT a useful information)

We can use some quantifiers with uncount nouns:

He gave me some useful advice.
They gave us a lot of information.

Uncount nouns often refer to:

Substances: food, water, wine, salt, bread, iron
Human feelings or qualities: anger, cruelty, happiness, honesty, pride
Activities: help, sleep, travel, work
Abstract ideas: beauty, death, fun, life

Common uncount nouns

Some common nouns in English like information are uncount nouns even though they have plurals in other languages:

advice accommodation baggage equipment
furniture homework knowledge luggage
machinery money news traffic

Let me give you some advice.
How much luggage have you got?

Common uncount nouns 1

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If we want to make these things countable, we use expressions like:

a piece of ... a bit of ... an item of ...
pieces of ...  bits of ... items of ... 

Let me give you a piece of advice.
That's a useful piece of equipment.
We bought a few bits of furniture for the new apartment.
She had six separate items of luggage.

However, accommodation, money and traffic cannot be made countable in this way. We need to use other expressions:

I've lived in three flats/apartments. (NOT bits of accommodation)
Smith received three large sums of money. (NOT pieces of money)
We got stuck in two traffic jams. (NOT pieces of traffic)

Common uncount nouns 2

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Common uncount nouns 3

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Comments

Hello zagrus,

In common use, vocabulary is an uncountable noun but it is true that vocabulary can be used as a countable noun in certain, quite specific, contexts.  This kind of use is a feature of technical language.  For example, in normal use 'English' (as in the language) is an uncountable noun, but it is possible for linguists to talk of 'Englishes' when they want to distinguish between different variants of the language (American English vs British English, for example, or spoken English vs written English).

When used as it is in your original sentence, with the meaning of 'words' or 'items of vocabulary', it is uncountable.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello'
can you please tell me that why "a few" is used except "few" in following sentence:

We bought a few bits of furniture for the new apartment

Hello menaka,

There is a difference in meaning between these:

'A few' = some and enough for the purpose; it has a positive sense.
'Few' = not as many as we would like or not enough for the purpose; it has a negative sense.

For example:

'I have few friends' = I am a little lonely and would like more friends.
'I have a few friends' = I'm quite happy with the number of friends I have.

So, in your example the speaker is saying that they bought enough bits of furniture - perhaps they will buy more, but they don't lack furniture. If the speaker had said 'We bought few bits of furniture for the apartment' then we would understand that there was a problem of not having enough furniture.

There is a similar distinction between 'a little' and 'little' with non-count nouns.

'I have a little time' = I can help you/chat/do something with you.
'I have little time' = I'm in a hurry.

You can find more general information on quantifiers here:

http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/determiners-an...

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team,
You are doing a great job by providing free knowledge for English language. This will be very helpful for person who is not able to afford tuition fee. My question is, in first line you just mentioned that "We do not use uncount nouns in the plural and we do not use them with the indefinite article, a/an." but in the first example "We ate a lot of food" you used article 'a'.
I will really appreciate your time you would spend in replying this.
Regards,
Hussain Bahelim

Hello Hussain Bahelim,
Thank you for your warm words - they are much appreciated and it is nice to know we are helping people with the English studies.
The answer to your question is that we do not use 'a' with the uncount noun 'food', but we do use the quantifying phrase 'a lot of', which should be considered a set/fixed phrase like 'many', 'much', a great deal of' and so on.  By the way, 'a lot of' can be used with both count and uncount nouns: 'a lot of food' and 'a lot of apples'.
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Yes, you people are helping definitely. But important thing is, you are helping those who could not afford English Tutor for learning.
So in 'a lot of' we can not say 'a' is an article instead it is whole phrase itself. Is it necessary or is there any rule by which we can only use an article before noun only ?
Sorry I am not native English speaker so lots of confusion.
Regards,
Hussain Bahelim

Hello Hussain,
It is possible to analyse the phrase 'a lot of' in terms of its individual parts but I don't think it's very helpful and so I would suggest learning it as a set phrase, as I said.
Articles are used before nouns, yes, but I'm not sure as to the exact meaning of your second question.  Could you rephrase it, perhaps with an example sentence so I can fully understand?
Many thanks,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanka you for your effort.my question is:the deferences between a piece of... and pieces of...

Hello Abdowawa,
'A piece of' is singular (one piece); 'pieces of' is plural (more than one piece).
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

I'm a bits of puzzle here, if Gas is uncount noun then what is gaseous ?
Kindly explain? Millions thanks in advance.

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