1: Uncount nouns used as count nouns

Although substances are usually uncount nouns...

Would you like some cheese?
Coffee keeps me awake at night.
Wine makes me sleep.

... they can be also 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 on sale.  = They had over twenty [types of] cheese on sale.
This is an excellent soft cheese.  = This [kind of] soft cheese is excellent.

 2: Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form:

We should always have hope.
George had hopes of promotion.
Travel is a great teacher.
Where did you go on your travels?

 

3: Nouns with two meanings

Some nouns have two meanings, one count and the other non count:

His life was in danger.
There is a serious danger of fire.

Linguistics is the study of language.
Is English a difficult language?

It’s made of paper.
The Times is an excellent paper.

Other words like this are:

 

business death  industry marriage power property
tax time victory use work  

 4: Uncount nouns that end in -s

Some uncount nouns end in -s so they look like plurals even though they are singular nouns.

These nouns 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.
 

5: Group nouns

Some nouns, like army, refer to groups of people, animals or things, and we can use them either as singular nouns or as plural nouns.

army audience committee company crew enemy
family flock gang government group herd
media public regiment staff team  

We can use these group nouns either as singular nouns or as plural nouns:

  • My family is very dear to me.
    I have a large family. They are very dear to me. (= The members of my family…)
  • The government is very unpopular.
    The government are always changing their minds.

Sometimes we think of the group as a single thing:

  • The audience always enjoys the show.
  • The group consists of two men and three women.

Sometimes we think of the group as several individuals;

  • The audience clapped their hands.
  • The largest group are the boys.


The names of many organisations and teams are also group nouns, but they are usually plural in spoken English:

  • Barcelona are winning 2-0.
  • The United Oil Company are putting prices up by 12%.
     

6: Two-part nouns

A few plural nouns, like binoculars, refer to things that have two parts.

glasses jeans knickers pincers pants pliers
pyjamas scissors shorts spectacles tights trainers
trousers tweezers        

These binoculars were very expensive
Those trousers are too long.

To make it clear we are talking about one of these items, we use a pair of …

I need a new pair of spectacles.
I’ve bought a pair of blue jeans.

If we want to talk about more than one, we use pairs of … :

We’ve got three pairs of scissors, but they are all blunt.
I always carry two pairs of binoculars.
 

Exercise

Comments

Dear Sir
Would you explain this to me please?
There are five kinds of phrase.
Is it wrong to say five kinds of phrases?

Hello andrew international,

There may be some editors who prefer one way over the other, in general, both ways of saying it are considered correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much, sir. Now it is very clear.
Andrew int.

They sell a lot of coffees = so this is wrong right?
They sell a lot of different kinds of coffee = and this one is correct?

Hello ricbarol,

In general, yes, the second sentence is preferable and what I'd recommend you use, though I expect you might be able to hear some speakers use the first form as well to mean the same thing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
Can you please explain to me the difference between "people" and "peoples"? And in what cases can we use the latter one?

Hello Venus,

One of the uses of 'people' is to refer to 'all the men, women, and ​children who ​live in a ​particular ​country, or who have the same ​culture or ​language' (I copied this directly from the dictionary) and it is in this case that it can be singular or plural. Otherwise, 'people' is always plural.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

sir,
Does the following sentences mean the same -
George had hopes of promotion.
George had hoped of promotion.

Hello neh7272,

'hope' isn't usually followed by 'of', but rather 'for': 'had hopes for' or 'had hoped for'. Those two are quite differently grammatically, but basically mean the same thing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,

I'm a little bit confuse about a word ' travel'
in the previous section travel is uncount noun - usually refer to activity, but in this section the word has both a count and uncount noun
From the example above there is travel with s (travels)
Does it mean plural? How we differentiate the count and uncount of ths word?
Thank you

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