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Common problems with count and uncount nouns

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

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Substances as count or uncount nouns 2

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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

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Nouns with two meanings 2

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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

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Comments

Dear Teachers,
"Most developed countries have advanced military forces to protect their TERRITORY/TERRITORIES". It should be "territory" or "territories"?
Germany's territory, the USA's territory, the UK's territory, so added up should be "territories", am I correct?
Thanks

Hi Kaisoo93,

Actually, both territory and territories are correct here. There a couple of things to be aware of:

  1. The noun territory can be uncountable or countable, with the same meaning. So, we could use the uncountable territory.
  2. When the subject is plural, if each subject possesses one of something, you can use a singular noun. For example: Many people have a Facebook account. This means that each person has one account. It doesn't mean that there is only one account in total. You can also say Many people have Facebook accounts in the plural - this also has the 'one account each' meaning. However, it has another possible meaning: that each person has more than one account. 

Going back to your sentence, you can use territory and territories with pretty much the same meaning. But use territory if you mean it in an uncountable sense. Or, use territories to emphasise that each country possesses several territories.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan,
Thank you for your explanation.
Is "their accounts" correct in the following sentence? If I change to "their account", does it implies that all people share one facebook account?
"Many people have a Facebook account. They use their accountS for different purposes."
Thanks

Hi Kaisoo93,

Yes, you could use accounts in the second sentence.

It's also fine to use account. It's true that one possible meaning is that all people share one account, but this is obviously unrealistic in this context, so readers/listeners would definitely understand it as having the other possible meaning: each person uses their own account for different purposes. Using account also has the benefit of keeping the reference consistent with account in the first sentence, so I would recommend that.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi guys,
I want to know something.I saw this sentence while I was reading a book.
'I missed the last metro home and had to get a taxi.'

Then, I searched the noun on the Internet which I had never seen
-metro home-, but I couldn't find anything.Whats the meaning of that noun?
and Have you ever seen that phrase? Is it common?
Thanks a lot!

Hello Nevı,

This sentence has different chunks (parts) than what you are thinking. One chunk is 'I missed the metro' and another is 'home', which here is a short way of saying 'going home' or 'that goes to my home'. In other words, this person missed the last metro that they needed to take in order to get home that day.

We often use 'home' after a noun phrase like this. You could also say, for example, 'the bus home', 'a flight home', etc.

Hope this makes sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Teacher, can we use for other places such as the bus restaurant, the flight London, the train stadium...?
Could you tell me
Thanks a lot!

Hello Nevı,

No, those are not correct -- you need to say 'the flight to London', 'the train to the stadium', etc.

The word 'home' is unusual and can be used adverbially without the preposition 'to' -- you can see an explanation of this on this page -- look for the paragraph beginning 'We use home as an adverb ...' and you'll see what I mean.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello please clarify
The sky is blue in color
I had egg and toast for breakfast
We spent the day sitting in the garden
There's no electricity in the town because of the floods
Here color,Breakfast, day, garden,town, floods
countable-- or uncountable?

Hi there:
Please could you explain to me why INDUSTRY is a count noun in the exercise "The automobile INDUSTRY is a vital part of the United States economy"?
Thanks a lot.

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