Uncount nouns

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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Hell aesa006,

As you say, 'machinery' and 'equipment' are uncount nouns and so no plural forms are used in standard English. This is the same for British and US (and other) Englishes.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Wow! It seems like I'm living in the dark my whole life and thought that there is "machineries". Thank you for this enlightenment and to your whole team!

Submitted by kinal on Tue, 15/03/2016 - 05:31

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Thanks for your lesson.I really like it.but I stile can't do it well.I will try as much as possible.

Hello kinal,

That's ok, don't worry. I'd recommend you come back to the page in the future – it will probably be easier then. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by maridiri on Fri, 26/02/2016 - 11:13

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Hello, I ha've some problems with the word:hair/hairs. What is the different use of it, in singular and plural?

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 26/02/2016 - 12:28

In reply to by maridiri

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Hello maridiri,

In most contexts, 'hair' (the uncount noun) is used. For example, 'You have lovely hair' or 'His hair is black', as we're not really speaking about all the individual hairs someone has. In certain contexts, however, the singular or plural forms of the count noun are possible. I'd suggest you study the example sentences for 'hair' in the dictionary.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zagrus on Mon, 25/01/2016 - 09:55

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Hi! What is the difference between " detail information" and "detailed information"? Thanks in advance

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 25/01/2016 - 14:34

In reply to by zagrus

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Hello Abdullah,

'detail information' does not sound correct to me. Perhaps in some very specific context, it might be OK, but in general you should use 'detailed information'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yalda Razmpour on Thu, 01/10/2015 - 10:01

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Hi I have a problem, we have inconvenience as a countable and uncountable noun. I want to learn the usage of this word...for example in this sentence wich quantifier is correct to choose : ..... Inconvenience didnt interfere with our fun. A little/a few

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 01/10/2015 - 14:50

In reply to by Yalda Razmpour

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Hello Yalda Razmpour,

I'd suggest you look up 'inconvenience' in several online dictionaries so that you can read the example sentences to see how it's used. You can also search the internet for 'inconvenience' to see how it's used on different websites. I haven't searched myself, but I think you'll find that 'a little inconvenience' is not very common at all – you're much more likely to see this idea expressed with an adjective (e.g. 'It was a bit inconvenient that ...'), I suspect.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reza2020heli on Sun, 12/07/2015 - 17:44

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Hello Dear sirs, I'd like to appreciate your work, which helped me a lot. My question is " What is the difference between "help" and "help out"? I looked up that in Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, but I did not completely figure out. Could you please give me a hand? Sincerely yours Reza

Hello Reza,

'Help out' is only used with people, whereas an object (a tool, a dictionary etc) many 'help' you. 'Help out' is often used when one person takes part of another's responsibility to make things easier. For example, if my friend is cleaning their house then I may 'help out' by doing the bathroom for him. 'Help' is the more general word and can be used in any context; 'help out' is more limited.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Manoj Kumar1 on Sun, 07/06/2015 - 13:32

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Dear Sir, we always say Science, Commerce and Arts far as the issue of stream is concern. So my question is why Arts always been written in plural contrary to Science and Commerce.

Hello Manoj,

The 'arts' refers to the various kinds of arts - music, sculpture, dance - but in any case I'd just recommend you accept this as how the word is used.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chandini on Mon, 01/06/2015 - 08:50

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Sir, I have a small doubt that which one is correct, 'One and a half an hour' or 'one and a half hours'? Thank you, sir.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 02/06/2015 - 07:56

In reply to by chandini

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Hello chandini,

'one and a half hours' is the correct form here.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by piabba on Thu, 30/04/2015 - 15:36

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Hi Kirk, I read that we can't use an indefinite article with uncount nouns. OK. The question is: may I say "a love like this..."? Thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 01/05/2015 - 09:02

In reply to by piabba

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Hi piabba,

'Love' is an abstract noun and is usually uncountable when we are talking about the emotion in general. It is possible to use it as a countable noun in the sense of either 'a person who I love' ('I wrote a poem to a love from my past') or a particular feeling rather than the emotion in general ('I have always felt a strong love for my family'). Your examples would be similar to this second case.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by csoto5 on Mon, 27/04/2015 - 11:10

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Dear Sir or Madam, I hope you could help me out. I am looking for a English Grammar Book or website where I could find the English structure or syntax. I am a software programmer and I find much easier learn English by Syntax and code. Any suggestion? Thanks, Cesar SOTO

Hello Cesar,

The Grammar Reference, i.e. the section you are in now, is our primary resource for learning English grammar. I'm afraid we don't recommend books, and in any case I'm not familiar with any that approach English syntax as code. I'd recommend do an internet search for 'learn English syntax' and looking through the results - perhaps there will be something suitable there.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by asif0050 on Mon, 09/02/2015 - 08:13

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Sir, I have a good news for you. I have good news for you. which is correct?

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 12/02/2015 - 13:51

In reply to by asif0050

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Hello asif0050,

As you can see in the entry for 'news' in the Cambridge Dictionaries Online (see the search box below on the right), it is an uncount noun. As an uncount noun, it is incorrect to use the indefinite article 'a' before it. Therefore, the second version you wrote is the correct one, though you could also use 'some' in place of 'a'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PRASURAL on Wed, 04/02/2015 - 04:24

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Learned a lot from this exercise.. thank u again!! this is a good way to improve ENG knowledge far more than reading books laying on bed in evenings.. ;)

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Tue, 23/12/2014 - 06:26

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Dear Sir, Could you please tell me which usages are correct out of the following ones - 1. He gave me a confidential information. 2. He gave me a piece of confidential information. 3. He gave me confidential information. Thank you so much Sir :)

Hi iamsam1987,

What do you think? Consider that 'information' is an uncount noun in English, which means that one of your three sentences is not correct and the other two are OK.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Tue, 23/12/2014 - 06:09

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Dear Sir, Could you please explain me the use of 'fruit' and 'crowd' in both singular and plural forms? Is there any nuance in their meaning when they are used in the singular and the plural ?

Hello iamsam1987,

You can see some good examples of these words in use in our dictionary. Note that 'crowd' is always a count noun, but 'crowd' in the singular can be followed by a singular verb or plural verb, as it refers to a group of more than one person; 'crowds' is always followed by a plural verb.

'fruit' has both count and uncount forms. As an uncount noun, it refers to all the different kinds of that part of a plant - and this form is by far the most common one.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by christine88 on Sat, 11/10/2014 - 07:24

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By the age of two a child will have a vocabulary of about two hundred words. 'vocabulary' is an uncountable noun, in this case can we use 'a' ?

Hi christine88,

There are quite a few nouns that have both count and uncount forms. If you look up 'vocabulary' in our dictionary (see the Cambridge Dictionaries Online search box on the right), you'll see that it is one of these. In this case, as it seems you've already guessed, it's a count noun, and that is why 'a' is used with it.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jalaj on Sat, 13/09/2014 - 09:59

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Hello Sir, Phrases like piecesof bits of are used to make countable noun.What is the difference Why 2 seperate phrases and also in which context these phrases can be used with uncountable noun.

Hello jalaj,

'pieces of' is often used with something that can be broken into pieces, and 'bits of' is perhaps less specific, but in many ways they are similar. I'd suggest you look up both words in the dictionary, or search the internet for them, to see examples of them in use in different contexts.

Every language offers its speakers many ways to express the same idea, so having two expressions that mean the same thing make a language stronger and is not at all unusual.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zaigham on Thu, 10/04/2014 - 12:39

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Thank you for the wonderful learning material

Submitted by jesus4jincy on Fri, 28/03/2014 - 07:42

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hello teacher how can i identify uncountable noun???

Submitted by jesus4jincy on Fri, 28/03/2014 - 07:37

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hello, there are many useful equipments...is this sentence correct???

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 28/03/2014 - 17:09

In reply to by jesus4jincy

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Hi jesus4jincy,

"equipment" is an uncount noun in English, so it is not correct; it should be "there's a lot of useful equipment".

Regarding your other question, there is no easy way to know whether a noun is count or uncount in English - it's simply something that must be learned.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by fizazack on Fri, 07/03/2014 - 15:08

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Hello teacher, As mentioned above, I have learnt that advice is uncountable noun. 1) Does this sentence correct?. She gives me two advices. 2) you need to be patient. you have to be strong. you have to be responsible. When somebody gives me all of these advices, I should reply " Thank you for the advices". Is it correct? thank you. :)

Hello fizazack,

No, that sentence is not correct because 'advice' is uncountable, as said above.

The correct sentence would be 'She gives me two pieces of advice' and the correct response 'Thank you for the advice' (you could also say 'Thank you for those two pieces of advice' but it is rather longer than necessary).

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chandini on Sat, 15/02/2014 - 06:15

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Why "advice" is considered as uncountable noun? Would you please explain this for me? We may get a single advice sometimes. So, why don't we say "He gave me an advice."? and why shouldn't we use articles before the noun "Advice"?

Hello chandini,

I can't answer the question 'why' advice is uncountable as this is simply a feature of the language which has evolved over time, but I can confirm that it is so.  When we want to talk in a specific way about advice we use the phrase 'a piece of':

She game me some good advice. [general - uncountable]

She gave me threee good pieces of advice. [specific - countable]

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by menaka on Sat, 23/11/2013 - 12:04

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Hello ,The learn English Team,

Can you please tell me the place where I can learn about "exponent & function " in English.

Regards,

Menaka

Hello menaka,

'Functions' are things that we do with language in communication, such as 'apologising', 'making suggestions', 'complaining' and so on.  'Exponents' are the phrases and sentences which we use to do these things.  For example, exponents of the function of apologising would include 'I'm sorry', 'I apologise', 'Please accept my apologies' and so on.

A great place to practise these aspects of langauge is our 'How to...' series, which has episodes looking at some of the most useful functions, such as 'How to turn down and invitation', 'How to greet someone you haven't seen for ages' and, of course, 'How to order a round in a pub'.

I hope that helps you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr.Peter

 thank you for your direction, i learnt more about the 'function & exponents' from "How to ....series"

regards

menaka

Submitted by menaka on Sat, 23/11/2013 - 11:40

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Hello Mr.Peter,

Thank you so much for your valuable explanation .I got it, really this is very helpful site.

Submitted by zagrus on Wed, 13/11/2013 - 18:21

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Hello, is the word " vocabulary" countable or uncountable. Can I say "I know so many English vocabularies?" Thanks in advance

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 15/11/2013 - 13:15

In reply to by zagrus

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Hello zagrus,

The word 'vocabulary' is uncountable.  You need to say 'items of vocabulary' or, more simply, 'words'.

If you need to find out something like this in future, you can use the Cambridge Dictionaries Online window.  Type 'vocabulary' into the window and you'll get a lot of information on the word, including grammatical information such as whether it is countable or uncountable.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr. Peter, I did as you advised me and checked the Cambridge Dictionary, but it says that the word vocabulary is countable and uncountable and here is the link http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/vocabulary?q=vocabulary thanks in advance

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

Submitted by menaka on Sun, 27/10/2013 - 16:05

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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