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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

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

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