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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


Substances as count or uncount nouns 2


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


Nouns with two meanings 2


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




Hi Clare,
That's a good question and I couldn't find a definitive answer. But to my mind, you can use either is or are in that sentence. When reading, I've seen many examples of both and neither sounds more or less correct to me.
However, it is easier (and sounds better) to simply say "There are some children, a man and a lady in the park." Then you avoid the tricky 'there is/are' issue entirely.
I hope this helps!
The LearnEnglish Team

 Maybe,question 1 is right, if we think a kind of tea is grown in Sri Lanka. Do you agree with me?

Hi Zhao Wei

As the text says (problem 1), for almost all uncountable nouns (substances), there are times when they are used in a countable way. A common example of this: Would you like to go for a coffee/beer? 

In the case where uncountable nouns are used in a countable way, they are being used as a short form - a cup of coffee.

This makes the topic really difficult to teach because there are always bright students who will come up with acceptable countable examples for any uncountable noun you can think of.

'A tea is grown in Sri Lanka that was imported from China in the 19th Century.'

This sentence makes sense, but the sentence: 'A tea is grown in Sri Lanka',  on its own, is very difficult to justify.


Jack Radford

The LearnEnglish Team

 Why I cant check answers ? Button is inactive.

Just click on 'See Answers' and you will be able to see what you got right and wrong.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

 Thank you very much British Council. Because it is very easy to understand.

easily undersyood