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

Section: 

Comments

Hi Peter
In your above answer to 'navira' the first sentence: 'Trousers ' is a plural noun and...
My question: What is the subject of that sentence? Is it 'a plural noun' I have heard the subject could come after the verb. please let me know.
Let me know wether this is correct, too: Some new trousers is for sale.
Thank you.
Regards

Hi Andrew,

'Trousers' is the subject, 'is' is the verb (a linking verb or copula) and 'a plural noun' is a subject complement. The reason a singular verb is used is that the sentence describes the word 'trousers' (it means 'the word trousers'), not the item which we wear.

Your sentence is not correct because 'trousers' is a plural noun here. You need to say 'Some new trousers are on sale'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
I request your help regarding these sentences: This sheep is black. Changing this into plural. These sheep is black. or are black or Some sheep is black. Which sentence is correct? For eg. This equipment is new. Changing this to plural. Some equipment is new. One cannot say; these equipment are new because one cannot use a plural verb with an uncountable nown.
Please advice me regarding the 1st example. 'This sheep is black.'
Thank you.
Regards

Hello Andrew international,

'The sheep are black'. As for the sentence with equipment, I would say there is no plural form -- as you point out, how can you make something uncountable countable? 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi all! :)

"That's a very interesting property. How much is it?"

I intuitively answered this even though I was not sure why it goes like "That's A very interesting..."

From one of the first lessons: "We use the indefinite article, a/an, with count nouns when the hearer/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to."

But the reader/hearer in this case knows exactly which property we're talking about...

Someone cares to explain? :) Thank you!

Hi EnglishZenon,

It is possible to say 'the interesting property' here. The context is important.

 

The reason we usually say 'an' in this case (your instincts were good, of course) is as follows:

We use 'the' when we want to identify a particular thing within a group. For example:

That's a property. [one of many properties]

That's the property. [a specific property which has been identified previously]

 

The same distintion applies when an adjective is added:

That's an interesting property. [one of many interesting properties]

That's the interesting property. [a specfic interesting property which has been identified previously]

 

In other words, 'the interesting property' would be a way of identifying a particular interesting property from other interesting properties, not a way of stating that one property alone is interesting.

 

The reason we can also say 'the interesting property' is that it could be a reformulation of 'the property which is interesting', which would identify a particular property in the sense of 'there are many properties, but only one has the characteristic of being interesting'. As I said above, context is key here because articles are related to the level of shared information between speakers.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Not sure if anyone can help but the department I work in is creating a new department for Estimating. The name for the new team will be the 'Estmation Team'; should it not be 'Estimating Team'? The first choice just doesn't seem correct to me

Hello SteveS,

I'm afraid I'm not sure what to recommend, in part because I don't understand exactly what that department's function will be. I'd suggest looking at websites of other companies in your sector to see what language is in use by your peers.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there,

In the following sentences, which is correct?

1). The cricket team has just finished their exercises
The cricket team have just finished their exercises

2). Their family is smaller than ours
Their family are smaller than ours

Would you Please explain the logic as well.

Thank you.

Hi hrnmo,

All of those sentences are correct. Words like 'team' and 'family' are collective nouns which can be plural or singular. This is because we can think of a family, for example, as either one thing (a unit) or as a collection of individuals (a group).

There are quite a few words like this, such as police, government, army, Manchester United and orchestra.

There is more information on this point on the page, under point 5 (Group Nouns).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pages